Disgruntled teachers take education into their own hands
Dissatisfied with the public school system, teachers Michelle Gillette and Christopher Kelly set out to open their own charter school. At first.

They were fed up with ever-increasing class sizes, misplaced resources that rendered the No Child Left Behind Act moot and the erroneous placement of children who didn’t require it into special education programs. They believed they could better teach students – including the English-as-a-second-language and special education populations – in an environment that was independent of the politics inherent to public school districts.

Through research, Gillette and Kelly learned the state designates only 100 charter schools a year, and that it would take at least six months to properly file an application. So they decided to open a different type of education center, one that helps students excel at school and enables adults to learn the English proficiency necessary to succeed at work.

In September, they opened the All World Learning Center, a 1,200-square-foot space inside an office building near Veterans Highway. They invested approximately $20,000 to convert the space into “a one-room schoolhouse” that comfortably accommodates 30, Gillette said, though they’d prefer to limit class size for now to 15 or 20.

Ultimately, they plan to fold the program into their yet-to-open charter school. But for now, the business, rather than the launching of the charter school, is their main focus, Gillette added.

The company offers courses in beginner, intermediate and advance-level ESL; college preparatory programs; and various degrees of tutoring. It provides adult education classes, including courses in business Spanish, to help managers effectively communicate with their workers. Other adult education classes include accounting and finance, computer work, defensive driving and more. In addition, the classroom is made available to neighborhood businesses and organizations.

The teachers also provide one-on-one courses, and by Thanksgiving expect to offer classes online, complete with downloadable worksheets – so a company’s employees can take courses without leaving their worksite. Students can also access the program and learn on their own time.

That flexibility will enable parents who work two or three jobs to sign up for the program that best meets their schedule, Kelly noted.

In addition to handing out flyers in local school districts, the partners are currently pitching the programs to companies that employ non-English-speaking workers.

“It’s a new adventure for us,” Gillette said.

To minimize costs, Kelly and his father renovated the Bohemia space. The partners also receive free business advice from the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University; the best advice they obtained from their SBDC advisor was to “keep asking questions before you sign” any documents, or they would later regret it, Kelly said.

Twenty individuals have so far come in for a proficiency test and the partners have already signed up their first one-on-one client. They expect business will pick up once first-semester report cards come home and students – and parents – recognize the need for tutoring.

“All we need is one class for word-of-mouth to take off,” Kelly said.

Within the year, they hope to have 40 students a month, and gross $300,000 in annual revenue.

They currently work six days a week, with Saturdays popular for proficiency exams. However, even with the extra hours, “it doesn’t seem like work,” Kelly said, “because this is what we want to do.”

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