Start an Educational Alternative

The 12th annual AERO School Starter’s Course will start on September 25th, 2017.  AERO has helped start at least 100 schools that we know of, but there are many more out there! You can see a map a listing of over 80 of them below.

This year we again have the option of getting transferable graduate credit from Antioch University! Of course for many people this has not been an issue—the bottom line is that they wanted help to start their school. But for some people is could make a difference, for a variety of reasons. It can enable more funding. It can bestow more credibility for some people in their communities. The credit is given by the highly esteemed Antioch University New England Graduate School of Keene, New Hampshire.

There seems to be an unusual amount of interest in the course this year so we are opening enrollment early. The cost for the basic course is now only $1000 but will rise to $1200 before the course starts in September. We do have a small amount of financial help for those who are low income. For those who want graduate credit the cost is only $1500. You can still sign up for the Auditing/Consultation course. Those who sign up for it get access to all the resources in the completed 2016 course as well as all the posts. But it is not interactive on the site. Instead we enroll you in a special listserve for school starters which has current and former school starters. It is only $300. It is a rolling registration, so you can sign up any time until we are about to start the new course in September. Also, the fee can be applied to the full time course at that time if you wish. Enrollees in the Auditing/Consultation program will automatically have priority for the Fall course if it is full.

At a time when the U.S. education system is failing under the burden of the ill-conceived No Child Left Behind program and Common Core, it is crucial that we create alternative school models, all across the country and around the world. AERO has decided to pour more of its energy into supporting the creation of a spectrum of new learner-centered alternative schools including home school resource centers. Join us in this campaign and start your own school! There is no better time than now!

The goal of our fifteen week school starters’ course is to help educators assess the feasibility and find the resources required to turn the dream of a school into a sustainable and nurturing educational environment. The course will prepare students to undertake the planning necessary to open a learner-centered school. We procede at a pace that is comfortable for the group. It is almost entirely on a designated website that we will give you access to, so is not in real time. You access it when you can and post when you can, within each section that we open up. 

The course is designed to address practical as well as philosophical issues pertinent to the process. This includes clarifying the educational vision, building a suitable educational model, mastering the governance techniques, fundraising, legal set up and student and staff recruitment.

Auditing/ Consultation program still open

Start date for next full class: September 25, 2017


Click here to enroll.


Here are some recent comments from people who have taken the course:
I started Castle Island Bilingual Montessori in Albany, NY. The School Starters course was a valuable resource for me providing an international network of passionate, intelligent and hard-working educational innovators. My questions about HOW to get things going were answered by my new peers. Networking with people in same place I was offered the answers I needed. Thank you!
-Diane Nickerson de Feliz

I definitely sing AERO’s praises everywhere I go. You opened my world through the course. Couldn’t be happier with all that has transpired since then.
-Hancy Tilton, founder of Mosaic School in Charlotte, NC

I was in the Start Your Own School 101 last year. I have been going through the approval stages to open an Approved Special Education Provider. Rose Academy School of Experiential Learning is located at 125 Border City Road, Geneva, NY. This is a private school for students with anxiety disorders, autism, emotional disturbance, and other special needs. I have rented a church that ironically was first an elementary school. I have four classrooms, an office, conference room, cafeteria and gymnasium. I am waiting for lists of students from neighboring schools and then we can start. Hopefully in three weeks. Think good thoughts and whisper a prayer for us.
-Lorraine Williams

The school starters program changed the course of my educational career. This course offered a new paradigm on learning, which was for me a breakthrough in my personal, parental, and professional development. AERO’s School Starter 101 lit the fuse of what I hope will be a lifelong personal experience of the dynamite power of democratic education.
-P.N., AZ

We are very close to opening our school – we have a preliminary permit from the Ministry of Education, and we expect to open next year, though it may take a year and a half according to the designer who we are about to hire to design the school.
I feel like I got the most out of the course when I was half way to 3/4 way through. It suddenly clicked that the course was being run pretty much like a democratic school – that you could get as much as you want out of it, or nothing at all. This is the beauty of the course
-NF, Bahrain

I took your start up for the high school and now have Iowa NET High Academy! I have graduated 13 in the past 2 years, with about 7 more finishing this summer!! Thanks for the help.

Dr. Cynthia Knight, Director

NET High Academy

All course materials (i.e. book chapters, articles…) are provided online free of charge. You will not need to purchase books. A free copy of How to Grow a School by Chris Mercogliano, Turning Points Ed. by Jerry Mintz & Carlo Ricci, will be mailed to you upon enrollment and receipt of payment. We will provide to you the link to our school starters website. 



Brief Summary of Topics

Unit 1: Different types of democratic schools and governance

Unit 2: Clarifying educational vision

Unit 3: Different kinds of governance

Unit 4: Building a community around the idea of starting a school

Unit 5: Legal requirements of a school

Unit 6: Finding or building a school environment

Unit 7: Financial basis of the school, including fundraising, budgeting and insurance issues

Unit 8: Recruiting teachers and students

Unit 9: The first days of school

Unit 10: Recap and Action Plan

What former participants have said

What an amazing, diverse group of people! I told my husband last night that I feel that I’ve found my tribe, in a way. It’s really the first time in my life that I’ve been surrounded by people who are thinking about all of the things that I am, who are concerned about the same things that I am, who are passionate about the same things that I am, who are dedicated to putting their thoughts into action like I am. It is truly wonderful! –Mary

I just finished reading all of the posts in the introductions thread, and I have to say I’m at awe with everyone here and grateful to be here. Even just reading your fascinating stories and following the links or looking up concepts has already given me incredible new ideas and resources, and we’re just starting! Thanks everyone, and thanks Jerry and Chris–TG

This class has helped me spell out my ideas and put them out there in a safe place that is supportive and helps me see what potential they have. This class has also inspired me to discuss my vision more with others (in person) and let people know not only what I feel is necessary in education, but WHY I feel it is so necessary. I have developed more confidence in articulating my vision and by doing so, have gotten lots of valuable feedback and support in surprising areas. It is quite an exciting time for me seeing all of the ideas I have been playing around with in my head for so long finally come out and take shape into something that seems a little more realistically feasible each day! –Katie

I do feel the course has assisted in getting closer to my goal of opening my school. I have learned a great deal from the topics and the questions/comments posted by the collective group. I have a new sense of confidence and peace about this process. I do not see it as such a big thing now. I am already open for school everyday for my children and now I am just including some others with a little different twist. –Marianne

This course has been spectacular– it really has opened many doors for me and made a *major* step in the right direction for me opening my school– both in what it has taught as well as in the people I have met. –Alex

This course has been immensely helpful. Among other things, I’ve discovered that there is a considerable body of literature on the subject of alternative education, but the literature is NOT readily available. You won’t encounter it as required reading in teacher preparation courses. You won’t find it in most public libraries. One thing I could do, I suppose, and it would be tax-deductible, would be to purchase the available materials from The Education Revolution website and DONATE them to the library. — Robert

Syllabus and Other Information

Instructor Information:
Jerry Mintz
Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO)
417 Roslyn Rd., Roslyn Hts., NY 11577
 800-769-4171 (domestic)
516-621-2195 (international)
Chris Mercogliano
2 Wilbur St. Albany, NY 12202
518 449-5759
Course Description:
Welcome, school starters! Alternative Education Resource Organization hopes to help you start some new educational alternatives with this Start a School 101 online course. This is our ninth year.
One of the most frequent questions we get is what does alternative mean? What brings schools with different philosophical approaches together under the umbrella of ‘alternative education’ or ‘educational alternatives’?
Course Purpose and Objectives:
There are many schools that we think of as alternatives. What unites them all is that they are learner-centered and not curriculum driven. In many of them, democratic meetings are an important part of governance and school culture. In many ways, they are alternative because they are based on paths less traveled. But ultimately we’d like these learner-centered approaches to be available to all students
Course student learning outcomes:
Through reflection, discussion and inquiry, students will explore:
Alternative education through the lense of  several different alternative schools in the United States and England. This movement is global and participants will come to understand that they are connected with many other people who share their beliefs about children, education, and human relationships.
  • How participants think a school or center should be run
  • Who will be making what kinds of decisions and how?
  • How much power should the board of directors have if a school is an independent entity?
  • What about the parents?
  • How to put vision into practice – how to get out there and bring more people on board.
  • The legal and financial issues around building a sustainable learning community.
  • Developing funding strategies and partnerships
  • Finding (or building) the right school space
  • Recruiting teachers and students
  • Planning and managing the first days of school
  • Surviving the first year
Required: None
All instructional materials will be provided online in digital formats
We will also send course members Chris Mercogliano’s How to Grow a School, as well as AERO’s Turning Points, edited by Jerry Mintz and Carlo Ricci.
Course Outline and Assignments:
Week 1: You really aren’t alone!
So far, we know you want to start an educational alternative. You may not be sure what kind you want to start, you just feel it that there has to be a way to do it differently. You may feel like few people around you understand what you are trying to do and sometimes you feel alone. We are here to tell you that you are not alone. Many people have wanted to change the traditional education system and the most famous alternative school still running to this day, Summerhill, dates from 1921.
In the next section we will learn about several different alternative schools in the United States and England. This movement is global and you will come to understand that you are in this with many other people who feel the same about children, education, and human relationships.
We will start with two shared readings on Summerhill – The Idea of Summerhill and Freedom, Not License! by A.S. Neil where he introduces in a clear way what the school is all about and what the difference is between freedom and license.
We continue with a brief history of Albany Free school by Chris Mercogliano, long time director of the school, who is helping us with the course this year. We also have an excerpt from his first book about the school Making It Up As We Go Along in order to get a feel for the inner working of a free school. We also have a piece by Daniel Greenberg on Sudbury Valley School and thus we give you a quick lay of the land.
Also, we have links to the full Albany Free School documentary as well as a link you probably can’t get anywhere else to the drama that was on BBC about how Summerhill School won its fight with the education bureaucracy in England.
Topic 2: Power, Authority, and Decision Making
AERO helps people start alternative learning environments of all kinds. One of the core issues that defines the type of alternative your vision will become has to do with governance: who gets to have a say in the creation of rules and policies, what is the process by which decisions are reached, and how is conflict resolved?
One of the attributes that makes a setting “alternative” is that it doesn’t distribute power in a pyramid shape in the way conventional schools do, with almost all of the authority placed at the top in the hands of high-level board members and administrators. Instead, to varying degrees and in a variety of ways, it shares power and authority among the participants.
The spectrum of possibilities, for instance, might extend from a Debbie Meyers-type public alternative school, which has no principal and instead is staff-run, to a Sudbury Valley-type school that is entirely governed by the school’s democratic meeting. In the first example, teachers have far more power than in conventional schools, but students and parents still have virtually none; whereas in the second, everyone who attends the meeting, regardless of age or status, has an equal voice.
The purpose of this section will be to address how you think your school or center should be run? Who will be making what kinds of decisions and how? How much power will your board of directors have if you are an independent entity? What about the parents?
Topic 3: Putting Vision into Practice
For the next unit we will start thinking about how to put vision into practice – how to get out there and bring more people on board. Hence the theme of this unit: building a community around the idea of starting a school. It may seem that every step in this process is crucial. That is true and it is very true of this particular step. There are pitfalls to be avoided – compromising your mission while you are reaching out. This is where unit 2 (non-negotiables) meets unit 4 (community building).
Probably the first thing we do when we come up with a good idea – such as starting a school – is to talk to our friends about it. Building a community around an idea is not much different from that except in scale. You need to be talking to a lot of different people and in different ways about your school.
The work that you did in last two units was in part intended to prepare a platform from which you will address your potential partners. The work on clarifying the things that you would not compromise on is of particular importance here.
As the support group and the future/young school’s community grows, the project sometimes stretches and the initial vision undergoes changes. Points of importance to you should not get lost in this process. If they do, the school will become something different, something you may not be happy with.
The readings include Katharine Houk’s very practical tips on how to do community organizing around the idea of a learning center. Also, we have an article by Yaacov Hecht, the founder of Hadera Democratic School in Israel, on Pluralistic Education. You can read from Ron Miller’s What Are Schools For and hear an interview with him. There is also an excellent interview with Alan Berger of BFS. Let us know if you are not able to hear the interviews.
Heads up for those who have not had a chance to visit an alternative school yet: at some point you should make a visit to an alternative school near you. We can help you plan for that and often give you contacts.
As for the assignment to locate new partners, friends and allies, go out and talk with as many people as possible about your idea, and then tell us how it went. Listen to their feedback and note their concerns and ideas, and try to identify what they can do for you and your school in the future. (Most of you have already started doing this.) Note that this should be an exercise in getting new people on board, so old friends don’t count.
A simple way of doing this is to convene a community meeting around the idea of starting a school. This is where unit 2 may be of help (democratic meetings). It is easier than it sounds to start and more difficult than it sounds to keep things going. We will help you with the process of keeping it going.
While philosophy and various visions of alternative education kept us busy till now, legal and financial issues are just as important for building a sustainable learning community.
In terms of the overall structure of your path to the school now is the time to figure out whether you want your school to be either a for-profit LLC or a non-profit organization. Each one comes with different pros and cons.
This unit is a bit different from the last four in that we have guests who are available to answer your questions. We are very fortunate to have Cheri Isett. She is a mother of six and a tax accountant of over twenty years. Because Cheri has precious skills in the area where many people just want to run and hide we hope you will benefit from her experience. Cheri is also the founder of Liberty Learning Center ( Cheri’s school is established as a non-profit.
If you haven’t yet done so listen to the interview with Alan Berger in the last section.
The are a few documents we suggested all School Starters take the time to read carefully this week, including the IRS’s publication 557. The link is below. We encourage you to be proactive and ask questions in the discussion topic.
Other materials posted are of interest in that they relate to the two main ways one can set up a school. Every jurisdiction is different so you will need to research the laws in your area.
When opening your school you are part of an ongoing revolution in education. This revolution will probably not be funded by large corporate donors. The alternative educational projects require alternative fundraising strategies. The strategy will depend on the community you serve and the legal set up you establish. This is why the question of raising funds comes after we have discussed both of those issues. Of course, those who want to start public alternatives will have their own set of financial considerations. But these techniques and concepts should be useful to everyone.
One of the take home points of this unit is that you don’t need to have cash in order to provide opportunities for your students. Jerry’s travel stories are filled with ideas on how to enable your students to problem solve and do what they want to do while employing all the resources (not just cash) available in the community and beyond.
Thank of ways you can widen the options of your students and enrich your school in ways other than paying for everything in cash.
The second point is that students can be valuable partners in thinking about fundraising. If they care for their school they will care to keep it going and thus will be likely to cooperate with adults in making it happen.
Think what you can do and how much of what you read applies to your future school.
Having a good space for the school is very important as it can make a big difference for how staff and students feel and how the community views the school.
If you are opening a school in an area where the neigbors are known to be wary of noise and the presence of children, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Neither the neighbors nor the kids will be happy and the students won’t have the freedom to play and move around as they need to.
At the begining you have several options: buying a property, building your own building, or renting an existing space. Many have started in a temporary space and moved on to a good permanent one. Recently Brooklyn Free School, after renting space in a church for 5 years has bought a five story building for 1.75 million dollars! Also we will go into the question of what would be an ideal space if you could design it from scratch. Hopefully this will get you started looking for a good space for your school.
Topic 7: Wrapping Up
Here are three more areas to cover for the course:
1. Recruiting teachers and students
2. The first days of school
3. Surviving the first year
Each of these optional discussion topics for this section. You can add any others you want. Those who are trying to catch up with past classes can work on the things they have not completed yet and participate in these discussion topics as they wish. If there are other discussion topics you would like to bring up, this would be a good time to post them.
You should also start working on your final project.
The final assignment depends on your target opening date and where you are in the process. Our suggestion is that those who want to open in the fall of 2015, write their road map through the first school year. For those with a target date further away, the task could be to write an Action Plan addressing all the aspects of the process: the vision, the non-negotiables, the legal framework, the fundraising plan and choice of space, the student and staff recruitment strategy, and a description of the strategy to get a school space. Including the progress to date and the timetable from February 2015 to the opening of your school would be useful. We would like to remind you that the presentation should not only address the teaching philosophy but walk you and us through what you will do in order to get the school open.
Due Date:  TBA in the class discussion area

Refund Policy

Course fees will be returned at a rate of 90% if withdrawn by 5:00pm eastern standard time September 30th, 50% if withdrawn by 5:00pm October 7th, and 0% after 5:00pm October 7th.

Withdrawal notice must be sent by United States Postal Service certified mail or you may contact us by e-mail or phone. Certified letter must include your full name and contact details, indicate your desire to withdraw, and must be post marked by the withdrawal deadline dates.

E-mails must be sent to and the phone number is 516-621-2195. If you elect to withdraw via these two methods, you must do so a full 48 hours prior to withdrawal deadlines.

If you have not received confirmation within 24 hours of cancellation, you must send the certified letter. If you are not a resident of the United States, your withdrawal notice should be sent by mail and e-mail. It must still be postmarked by the withdrawal deadline. Any questions regarding this policy should be sent to the above e-mail.

Jerry Mintz

Jerry established and for eighteen years ran a free school based on the principles of Iroquois democracy. He is the author of No Homework and Recess All Day and is currently Director of Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO).

Chris Mercogliano

Chris is the author of How to Grow a School: Starting and Sustaining Schools That Work, In Defense of Childhood, Teaching the Restless, and Making It Up as We Go Along and long time director at The Free School in Albany. See for a complete bio.

Schools we have helped start

Acheivement centerHorseheads, NY

A place to grow Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK

Beacon Academy, Lafayette IN

Birch School Rock Tavern, NY

Borsodi’s Bayou Learning Center, New Orleans, LA

Brooklyn Free School NY

Caravan Learning Circle

Castle Island Bilingual Montessori, Albany, NY

Celebration Education CA

Deep Root Center For Self-Directed Learning, Canton, NY

DIXI (Park School), Kiev

Elm International School Egypt

Espacio A  PR

First Nation School, Sandy Lake, ON, Canada

Forest School (ON, Canada)

Foundations School CA

Freedom To Grow Unschool  Athens, GA

Free-Range Learning Cooperative, NE, FL

Grow, Fayetteville, GA

Harriet Tubman Free School NY

Home Life Academy TN

Indian Way School Kahnawake, QC Canada

Kalapa, Bogota, Columbia

Kavalkad, Eger, Hungary

Kelly’s Working Well Farm , Chagrin Falls, OH

Knowing GardenRedondo Beach, CA

Koonwarra Village School, Koonwarra, Victoria

L’Association québécoise pour l’éducation à domicile, Montreal, QC, Canada

Laura Austin Achievement Center NY

Liberty Learning Center Lubbock, TX

Little Lake Learning Community Ann Arbor, MI

Le Réseau des écoles démocratiques au QuébecMontreal, QC, Canada

Lumiar School, Sao Paolo, Brazil

Manhattan Free School NY

The Marram School IN

Mindlife Success,  Malasyia 

Missoula Community School MT

Mosaic Free School, Charlotte, NC

New Leaf Homeschool Cooperative, Carrollton, GA

North Fork Education InitiativeSouthold, NY

North Star, Hadley, MA

Open Doors Center for Self Directed Teens, Grand Rapids, MI

Open Path Homeschooling Resources, VT

Outside NowSan Luis Obispo, CA

Parts and CraftsSomerville, MA

Phoenix Rising School Scottsdale, AZ

Phoenix School, Finland

Pono Learning, New York, NY

Prairie Green School, Iowa

Prairie Sky SchoolRegina, SK, Canada

Queens Paideia SchoolLong Island City, NY

Radicle Roots Community Schoolhouse

Raw LearningStaunton, VA

Ridge and Valley Charter School NJ

Rivers and Roads, Oklahome City, OK

Riverstone Village, Johannesburg, South Africa

Rose Academy School of Experiential Learning, Geneva, NY

School Of Cultural Creativity, Victoria, Australia

South Mountain Co-op Maplewood, NJ

Stork Family SchoolVinnytsia, Vinnyts’ka oblast, Ukraine

Three RIvers Village School, Pittsburgh, PA

Thought Quotient ALC, Houston

Trillium Charter SchoolPortland, OR

Village Free School OR

Voyagers Learning Center NJ

Warsaw Free SchoolWarsaw, Poland

Watershed Learning Center, Circleville NY

We Learn Naturally, Dundas, Ontario, Canada

Wheels of Life School WA

Wildflowers Playschool, Putney, Vermont

Whole Life Learning Center, Austin, TX

Yellow Wood Learning Community, Fort Lauderdale, FL


2 thoughts on “Start an Educational Alternative

  1. When is the next offering of your course "Start an Educational Alternative"?

  2. In late September. we’re updating now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.