Fundraising, recruiting and facilities problems kill Choir Academy

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Some charter schools have waiting lists, but the Choir Academy of Chicago had the opposite problem. Recruiting difficulties and other troubles kept the school from reaching its enrollment goals and forced its decision to shut down at the end of the school year. Brigitte Erbe, former board member of Choir Academy, talked about the difficulties.

Fundraising: Fundraising was always a problem, even when the Chicago Children’s Choir was in charge. Early on, we were hurt because it took so long to get our non-profit status approved. We couldn’t apply for grants in the meantime.

Some charter schools have waiting lists, but the Choir Academy of Chicago had the opposite problem. Recruiting difficulties and other troubles kept the school from reaching its enrollment goals and forced its decision to shut down at the end of the school year. Brigitte Erbe, former board member of Choir Academy, talked about the difficulties.

Fundraising: Fundraising was always a problem, even when the Chicago Children’s Choir was in charge. Early on, we were hurt because it took so long to get our non-profit status approved. We couldn’t apply for grants in the meantime.

Expansion: We wanted to expand to K-8 and enroll 450 students—two classes with 25 students at each grade. If we had done this, we would have been in good shape. But we couldn’t even meet conservative enrollment goals. We had also made a deal with the local school [Abbott, whose building the Choir Academy shared] saying we wouldn’t recruit students from them. In the end, it just seemed like we never had anyone who quite knew how to get students to our school. 

Lack of stability: We lost a lot of families in the move to [Abbott]. When the new board took over after the Chicago Children’s Choir pulled out, we realized the contract hadn’t been renewed for [the former] building. Another school was waiting to move in. We had to move and we weren’t sure where we were going to go. That affected parents. [At Abbott], the rooms were too small and the building had a lot of problems, but we could deal with it. Then it was announced Abbott would close at the end of the year. Our parents heard that. There was no word from CPS on whether we would have to move again or if we could we stay in the same building. Too much was unknown. That had an affect. Instability was a crucial problem.

Lessons learned: Our students were doing well.  But in hindsight we could have done a lot of things differently. We didn’t realize we were in pretty bad financial trouble until we were planning to move again to a new location that would have been perfect for us. But we realized we just couldn’t afford it. No one was offering us help, but I guess we didn’t seek help either.