The History of Constellation Schools LLC
Constellation Schools evolved from the desire of a small group of individuals to open a Montessori school in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood. After a lot of hard work and many community meetings held over the course of two years, a change in Ohio law establishing community schools (or “charter schools”) lead to the creation of Old Brooklyn Montessori School (OBCE). OBCE opened in August of 1998 with three employees and 27 students. Ms. Cherie Galjan, the current principal of OBCE, was its first employee and was given the difficult task of being both administrator of the school and head classroom teacher. In its second year, OBCE expanded to 87 students and added additional teachers and staff.
Expanding and Creating a Universal Appeal
The early successes of OBCE, and the desire to improve public education, drove some of the original developers of OBCE to become more actively involved in Ohio’s charter school movement. As a result, Richard Lukich, Gerald Preseren and Thomas Babb created Constellation Schools, a management organization, and worked together to develop proposals for additional community schools. Although they were pleased with the community support for OBCE and its Montessori curriculum, they recognized the challenges it presented in public education: difficulty finding quality Montessori trained and state certified teachers; the high cost of Montessori materials (about $30,000 per classroom); and, the fact that a Montessori education does not appeal to everyone.
As a result, a more traditional curriculum, utilizing a competency-based model, was selected for the new schools. To ensure the new schools stood out from existing public schools and the growing number of charter schools, a comprehensive character education (values) component was integrated throughout the curriculum, and small class sizes. The growth of the schools was tightly controlled, initially serving children in kindergarten through third grade and expanding to K – 8 over a period of six years, to allow them to develop a sense of community. This slow growth also allows for a more selective process in hiring teachers, which ensures the development of a quality staff.
In 2000 Parma Community School became Constellation School’s second school, and in 2001 three more schools opened: Westpark Community Elementary, Elyria Community Elementary and Lorain Community Elementary. Subsequent years brought additional growth with Mansfield Community Elementary opening in 2002 and Puritas Community Elementary opening in 2003. Four new schools were opened in 2004 including Madison Community Elementary and Stockyard Community Elementary, and two schools specifically designed to meet the needs of gifted children. The Greater Cleveland Academy for Gifted Students and Lorain Academy for Gifted Students recognize the uniqueness of high IQ children and present an opportunity for these students to be immersed in an educational environment surrounded by their academic peers.
In 2006 Old Brooklyn Community Middle, Westpark Community Middle, Lorain Community Middle, and Puritas Community Middle separated from their elementary school and became middle school who educated students in grades five through eight. Outreach Academy for Children with Disabilities also opened in 2006 to serve students that are medically fragile. In 2007, Westside Community School of the Arts, our first art based school, opened in Old Brooklyn, but a year later moved St. Philip & James school building in the Jefferson neighborhood in Cleveland. Since our middle schools programs formed in 2006 the next two schools to emulate this program were Mansfield Community Middle and Stockyard Community Middle. However, Mansfield Community Middle educates students in grades four through eight, while Stockyard Community Middle educates students in seventh and eighth.
Constellation’s growth is a steady progression that is determined by the community in which it is located. As a result, Elyria Community Elementary expanded its school to accommodate more students and therefore, now leases a space for their middle school program in the former Elyria City School- Eastgate. Besides the expansion in Elyria, two new schools will open for the 2011-2012 school year. Collinwood Village Academy and Eastside Arts Academy will be bringing Constellation’s high quality education to Cleveland’s east side for the first time. These two schools will service students in Kindergarten through grade three and will follow Constellation’s traditional model of expanding a grade each year.
The Purpose of Constellation Schools
Constellation Schools is an umbrella management organization, providing business, administrative, educational and financial support services to its schools. This structure allows these overhead expenses to be spread over all the schools, reducing the financial burden on individual schools. With Constellation performing most of the administrative functions, the building principals and teachers are freed up to do what they do best – educate children. Administrative centralization also eliminates duplicative services at each school. This type of efficiency is often used in business to increase profitability. Within Constellation, it serves to improve performance and accountability. As the organizations reap financial benefits from centralization, more money is put back in the classroom, resulting in better schools.
Success of the Organization
In a little over ten years, Constellation Schools has grown from one school, 27 students, and 3 employees to nineteen schools educating more than 4,400 students, with over 550 employees. Six schools have purchased the buildings that they occupy, evidencing their acceptance within their communities and their financial strength; they are Elyria Community Elementary, Mansfield Community Elementary, Mansfield Community Middle, Westside Community School of the Arts, and Lorain Community Elementary and Middle. In addition, Old Brooklyn Community Elementary and Middle, Parma Community, Westpark Community Elementary and Middle, Madison Community Elementary, and Stockyard Community Elementary have lease arrangements through bond financing with The Industrial Development Authority of the County of Pima and will own their buildings after completion of the bond.
Schools under the Constellation umbrella are also beginning to demonstrate academic success. In 2004/2005 school year, Parma Community School and Westpark Community School were both rated “Effective” by the Ohio Department of Education. For the 2005/2006 school year, Westpark Community School, Lorain Academy for Gifted Students and Greater Cleveland Academy for Gifted Students were all rated “Excellent”. Parma Community School and Old Brooklyn Community School was rated “Effective”. Furthermore, our Westpark Community Schools was named a “School of Promise” for the 2005/2006 school year. In 2006/2007 Old Brooklyn Community Elementary was rated “Excellent”; Parma Community, Lorain Community Elementary, Old Brooklyn Community Middle, Westpark Community Elementary, and Puritas Community Elementary were rated “Effective by ODE. In 2007/2008 Old Brooklyn Community Elementary and Madison Community Elementary were rated “Excellent”, Old Brooklyn Community Middle, Puritas Community Elementary and Parma Community were rated “Effective” by ODE. Our schools have made dramatic academic achievements during the past years, and will continue to show improvement each and every year to come.
Our schools continue to soar to new heights each year. For the 2008/2009 school year, Old Brooklyn Community Elementary, Old Brooklyn Community Middle, Puritas Community Elementary and Outreach Academy were all rated Excellent. In addition, Lorain Community Elementary, Westpark Community Elementary and Westside Community School of the Arts were rated Effective. Out of out 16 schools, three of our schools were designated as “Schools of Promise” from the Ohio Department of Education. Those schools were Old Brooklyn Community Elementary, Puritas Community Elementary and Old Brooklyn Community Middle.
Constellation’s community schools continue to accomplish outstanding achievements as a result of the dedicated people who put our students’ needs first to ensure every student has an opportunity to be successful. This is evident in the 2010-2011 ratings by the Ohio Department of Education. Ten of our schools were rated either “Excellent with Distinction”, “Excellent”, or “Effective”. Constellation Schools: Old Brooklyn Community Middle received the highest rating of “Excellent with Distinction” after achieving an “Excellent” rating for the past 2 years. Constellation Schools: Old Brooklyn Community Elementary achieved an “Excellent” rating for its 5th consecutive year and Constellation Schools: Outreach Academy upheld its “Excellent” rating for its 3rd consecutive year. In addition to these 3 successful schools, Constellation Schools: Lorain Community Elementary and Westpark Community Elementary joined them in receiving “Excellent” ratings for the 2010-2011 school year. Constellation Schools: Parma Community, Elyria Community, Mansfield Community Middle and Westside Community School of the Arts obtained an “Effective” rating. The performance on the 2010-2011 Ohio Achievement Assessments proves that Constellation’s schools continue to be one of the highest performing charter school organizations in the state of Ohio.
The Future of the Organization
Constellation’s growth is designed to be slow and deliberate to insure success and eliminate one of the most costly errors many small businesses make – expanding too quickly. Because Ohio’s community schools receive significantly less funding than the traditional public schools receive, it is imperative that Constellation Schools and the schools that it manages maintain strict fiscal discipline at all times. As the organization grows it will continue to focus on bringing new public school educational opportunities for students who have historically been under served.
The founders of Constellation have established a community of schools that benefit from outstanding participation and support from staff, students and parents. Constellation has developed a reputation for its high standards and dedicated teachers, and for delivering a quality educational program in a safe and pleasant environment.