PM360 recently spoke to Jerry Valentine, Business Development New Technologies Director, AstraZeneca, about starting a school.
PM360: You started a school with your wife called Learning Express Academy about a decade ago. Can you explain what went into the decision to open this school?
Jerry Valentine: My wife was pregnant and she was apprehensive about returning to work. We decided to sit down and talk it through because the most important thing is to be happy. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided she wouldn’t return to her job, but as an alternative, we started to consider expanding the preschool that my mother-in-law opened in Newark, DE.
We wrote the business plan and thought it made sense to pursue, so we pitched it to the landowner (he thought it made sense) and we pitched it to the bank (they thought it made sense)—so we went for it. We designed the building from the ground-up, from initial paper and Excel drawings to a final 10,000-square-foot building.
What were the challenges with getting the school off of the ground?
Three things: Time, money, and macro/micro circumstances. For the initial years, pretty much all of my vacation days were used to work down at the school to help get it off the ground. We were also taking a multi-million-dollar risk at a young age. And then the recession hit and new competition arose nearby on two fronts. One was a humongous charter school and the other was that policy changed at public schools to offer full-day kindergarten.
Your school’s motto is “Love, Educate, Achieve.” Can you explain what that means?
Love: We intentionally have a relatively small student body (approximately 100 total students) because we create a strong family atmosphere in which the kids feel loved, safe, and at home in our school. Both of my kids go there—and we would want them no place else!
Educate: We can offer individualized attention with our low student-teacher ratios (<10 to 1). We do not have a lot of “red-tape” so we can quickly put good ideas into action while we pick and choose the best parts of different curriculums. We are also constantly looking for ways to expand the depth and breadth of the education offered via technology, character education, social skills, physical activities, etc.
Achieve: Our students continue to excel and often test at a grade-equivalency several years above their current grade level. We have also won multiple awards including National Character Education and Delaware Day – 4th grade competitions.
How has the school grown since you first started it?
We started at K through 5th grade, but we were driven to expand through 8th grade due to parents/students wanting to stay with us longer—we just recently had our first 8th grade graduation class. We are also actively fundraising, such as with our 4th Annual Golf Tournament, to help support construction driven by the expansion and need for a new gymnasium space. For those interested in contributing, golfers and sponsors may register via https://birdeasepro.com/LEA.