Inc. Beacon Education Management
A participant in the field of public school management, Beacon Education Management managed twenty-five charter schools of approximately 7,500 students in Michigan, Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia as of April 2001.
Beacon was incorporated as a for-profit company in Delaware in December 1999, and is headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts; its predecessor entities commenced operations in 1993, originally as Alternative Public Schools, Inc., in Nashville, Tennessee.
As the Alternative Public Schools, this company attracted notice as a pioneer in the public school management business when it assumed management of Turner Elementary School in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1995. That management arrangement generated national attention and considerable debate, including a court action by the Pennsylvania State Education Association to declare the contract invalid. Eventually, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Wilkinsburg School Board did not have the authority under state law to contract for the management of the school, and the arrangement ended after three years. The debate stimulated by the Wilkinsburg contract was an important part of the evolution of innovative public-school management arrangements that began to develop in the latter part of the 1990s.
By 1996 Beacon was also managing a charter school in Massachusetts, and had attracted an investment by the notice of William Hambrecht, a prominent California investment banker. Michael B. Ronan, formerly superintendent of the Uxbridge, Massachusetts, school district, joined Beacon in 1997, assuming the post of chief operating officer, and later chief executive officer. Ronan led the company's growth in the ensuing four years.
Beacon's philosophy is based on the concept that management of public schools should be a collaborative enterprise with parents, students, teachers, and the local community. Though Beacon is a growing national provider of education management services, the company strives to meet the local needs of its students, educators, administrators and parents, while at the same time capitalizing on economies of scale and maintaining systemwide quality. The Beacon School Design consists of a rigorous and comprehensive standards-based curriculum that emphasizes teacher-directed instruction and project-based learning, supported by Beacon's back office administrative and financial services.
As of May 2001 the company's principal business was the management and operation of charter schools. It was also planning, however, to expand into the contract management market as the other key category in which to leverage its core strengths.
Beacon's strategy focuses on the following competitive strengths:
- ADAPTABILITY: Its education management services model is flexible and can be tailored to specific community circumstances.
- REVENUE MODEL: Beacon charges a fixed fee based on a percentage of the school's revenues. Therefore, its incentive to make a profit from this fee does not conflict with the charter board's goal of maximizing services to students.
- CONTROLLED COST STRUCTURE: Beacon strives to maintain relatively low central office expenses, focus on geographic regions that are composed of cluster groups of three to six schools, and maintain a corporate culture that emphasizes and respects the careful use of public funds.
Beacon has had two primary influences on the education management arena. As a pioneer, it helped introduce the concept of contract management of public schools to educators as well as the general population. Later, Beacon's core strategies–local adaptation, fixed fee revenue model, and careful cost controls–influenced the evolution of school management practices as the industry has grown and developed.
In December 2001 Beacon merged with Chancellor Academies, Inc., to form Chancellor Beacon Academies, Inc., based in Coconut Grove, Florida. The combination created the second largest public school management system in the United States.
HILL, PAUL T.; PIERCE, LAWRENCE C.; and GUTHRIE, JAMES. W. 1997. Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
NATHAN, JOE. 1996. Charter Schools: Creating Hope and Opportunity for American Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
EDUCATION COMMISSION OF THE STATES. 1999. "Governing America's Schools: Changing the Rules–Report of the National Commission on Governing America's Schools." <www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/11/72/1172.pdf >
WILLIAM DELOACHE JR.