Leaving the Classroom 36: How to Start a Microschool with KaiPod CEO Amar Kumar

Jan 24, 2024

Leaving the Classroom: A Transitioning Teacher Podcast

Leaving the Classroom 36: How to Start a Microschool with KaiPod CEO Amar Kumar

In this episode of Leaving the Classroom podcast, host Kristi Oliva interviews Amar Kumar, CEO of KaiPod Learning.

Tune in to hear:

- About KaiPod Learning, a company that helps educators start their own microschools. Amar discusses how microschools can provide a personalized learning experience for students while also giving teachers more flexibility and impact.
- About KaiPod's Catalyst program, which provides training and resources for teachers interested in starting their own microschool. The program helps educators develop business plans, find funding, and get their microschool up and running.
- Examples of different types of microschools, from ones focused on student athletes or neurodiverse learners to schools targeting gifted students. Amar discusses how microschools can meet the needs of diverse learners. 

Listen to the episode here:

Connect with Kristi on LinkedIn

Connect with Amar on LinkedIn

This podcast is sponsored by IDOL Courses and is the only authorized vocational school and implementation program of its kind that not only shows you exactly how to create your job application assets and build a portfolio from scratch, but also includes credentials, mentorship, expert coaching, and paid experience opportunities in corporate instructional design and online learning for life! Learn more about the program here.

 

Enjoy the podcast transcription:

 

Kristi Oliva
Welcome to Leaving the Classroom. This is a podcast for teachers who are ready to transition out of the classroom and into a new career. Each week, I'll share stories about what I've learned moving from education to the corporate world. I'll answer the most common questions, and share my best tips to help you get started. If you are considering leaving the classroom, this show is for you.

Kristi Oliva
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Leaving the Classroom. I'm Kristi Oliva and I'm so glad you are here. Today I'm talking to Amar Kumar, a former teacher and now CEO of KaiPod Learning. Welcome, Amar.

Amar Kumar
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Kristi Oliva
Yeah. Thanks for being here. I'm so excited to hear about KaiPod Learning but first can you just give us a little bit of your background in teaching. What kind of teacher were you? Tell us all the things.

Amar Kumar
Yeah, so I... teaching was my second career. I actually used to be a software programmer. I worked in health care but I always had this itch to learn and teach and so I went to actually start teaching as a volunteer in India and I took over a math classroom for high school. A very high needs school in Southern India. I started teaching... I took on that class of about 30 kids, and just fell in love with this... the light bulb moment that a lot of kids have when they're learning. Made a lot of changes in the classroom that were working well and became the principal of that school that year. Which I really got to have a lot of impact across the classroom and across the school building. But as most teachers realize, sometimes that impact doesn't always last, or there are other forces at play, that don't always allow you to do things the way you feel are right for your kids. And so I started to feel that sense of burnout that a lot of teachers feel. Not because I was working too hard or anything like that but because it just felt like everything I did wasn't really moving the needle. And that's where I started to say there's got to be a different way to do this. And so that led me down a long career. And that's why now I'm KaiPod.

Kristi Oliva
So I think that's a perfect segue, then because I can't wait to hear more about KaiPod. I checked out your website, and it really feels like the future of education. So I would love if you would tell us just how you started it and really what it is. What does this provide for learners and for families?

Amar Kumar
Thank you. When I left the classroom, I knew that teaching and learning had to be done differently. This concept that one adult with one voice can perfectly deliver content to 30 kids who have 30 different needs, who are at 30 different places, emotionally, mentally, academically, physically, that concept I think doesn't work. So we always talk about, you’ve got to personalize learning. You can't really do that if you're standing in front of a classroom and trying to do the same thing for everyone every day. There's no way that works. So I started to... the search for new ways to be in education. Lots of things happened and then eventually I ended up at Pearson where I was the global head of product for the online education business. It's called Connections Academy Schools. And so...

Kristi Oliva
I'm familiar, I applied there actually. When I was still teaching.

Amar Kumar
They have a lot of instructional designers, I know your audience is a lot of IDs. Anyway. So there are 45 schools across the country who are completely online and there's 10s of 1000s of kids who move through curriculum at their own pace, right? No one's necessarily teaching them at the same time, they are choosing to do it at their own pace. It's at home, so it's a lot of flexibility. I was like, Oh, this is a future, right? Everyone should be learning online. This is pre pandemic. But of course, you know, where the story is going to go. Learning completely online is not right for most kids. They need the social interaction, parents need sort of the childcare aspects of school, etc, right? So I realized that there was something missing in online learning. And then when the pandemic happened, and people started pulling together pods, or microschools, that's where I really got, you know, what I feel is like the glimpse into the future. That if you could combine really high quality online curriculum, with really high quality in person support. Now, kids get the best of both worlds. They're around other kids physically. They're getting the social and emotional skills. They have a caring educator over their shoulder but they're not waiting for someone else to teach them. They get to move at their pace. Whether they're gifted or they're struggling, they're neurodiverse, or neurotypical, doesn't matter. The learning platforms can help adapt to the child while they're in the comfort of a learning pod. So that's what... that was the genesis of KaiPod Learning is to create this hybrid space. We've formed 19 of these microschools ourselves. They're in five states across the country. We have hundreds of kids who come to our KaiPods, enrolled in an online school, or officially being homeschooled, but they physically do their work at a KaiPod, and now we're also expanding to help educators start their own. We believe so much that there are teachers, administrators, special education directors, who say, I want to stay in education, but I want to do something different. And the way I want to contribute to my community no longer looks like a traditional classroom. And so we want to help those people craft a vision for their school, help them get it off the ground, figure out the business plan, etc. and actually start serving kids.

 

Kristi Oliva
Yeah, I think that's the piece that like, really piqued my interest. Obviously, I've seen homeschooling done, I've seen where, you know, people do little in person meetups with their homeschool. So I am really interested in this educator piece of where do teachers come in? And what's in it for them? I guess. You know, since I'm serving teachers like what's the benefit for them in deciding to link up with KaiPod and start their own microschool?

Amar Kumar
Yeah, there's no one flavor of microschool. There are a hundred different varieties. So, if you are a teacher who says I want to do something differently, the first thing is, do you have a vision for how you think education should be delivered, or education should be experienced? So, if you have a strong vision as a teacher, that my classroom is going to look and feel like this. It might be inspired by Montessori, or by project-based learning, or something else. Whatever your vision is, the first thing is, you get to bring that to light and KaiPod helps you do that. The second thing is, as a teacher, you often need to learn about all the other aspects of running the school, right? The location, the regulation, the financials, the accounting, the customer service side of it. So we help you sort of understand all the other dimensions of running a school. And then the third part is, the third and final part is, growing your school, so marketing, enrollments. It's not a skill that can come naturally to all teachers. So we help you sort of get comfortable with the fact that you are now the face of this new school. And so you are going to be out there in the community telling people about it. And people are going to gravitate to you as a founder in your vision. And that is what's most appealing. So we help you to think through those three things. Anyone can start a microschool, you don't need KaiPod to do it. If I'm being very honest. Right? You don't need KaiPod. A lot of people do start their microschools. What we believe we do is one, we increase the chances of you actually being able to launch a school. So some data that I recently came across, about 10% of people who want to start a microschool actually end up doing so. 90% of people never actually get it off the ground because it's... there's a lot of stuff you don't know yet. There's a lot of stuff you've got to figure out. And sometimes just inertia gets in the way.

Amar Kumar
In our cohort, when we run our KaiPod Catalyst cohorts, our rate is 60%. So we know that not everyone can launch a school but we do believe we dramatically increase your likelihood to do so. And then second, when the cohort ends, we're not just saying goodbye, good luck. We become your partners for three years. So we are there for you for the most sensitive and risky part of your school. We are there with you to make sure you're growing, you're compliant, you are doing all the right things to ensure that you as an entrepreneur are successful. And so we don't run away, we're there with you to help you. And the other question you asked is why would a teacher want to do this. Well, number one that we talk to our founders, why did you do this, impact. They said, I love teaching, but it didn't feel like I was having an impact. And this is one of my theories on the concept of burnout. When we say teachers are burning out because they're working so hard. I think that's missing a key point. Teachers absolutely work hard but they're not afraid to work hard. Where burnout comes in is when they're working hard and nothing is changing. The needle is not moving. I work really hard. I work way more hours than I ever have in my life right now but I can see that I'm moving the needle. I'm not burning out.

Kristi Oliva
Oh my gosh, I think that is such a good point. Because I work more hours than I ever did as a teacher but it's because I've found things I'm so passionate about and I actually see the needle moving. So thank you for saying that because I think that's where KaiPod can come in and help teachers make that connection of like, I don't want to leave teaching because I encounter so many teachers who are like, but I do like this, but I'm just sick of the logistics. I'm sick of the politics and it sounds like you've found a way around that, which is so wonderful.

Amar Kumar
If you know like I... one of our cohort members this year, I talked to her she said I used to see 130 kids a week. I had 130 kids for whom I was responsible for math. That was a shallow impact on 130 kids. In her microschool now she has 15 kids that she sees every single day. And so she's having deeper impact on a lot fewer kids. And she's like that... I work hard but I know that I'm moving the needle for these kids. I know their families. I know their siblings, I know their schedules, I know their needs. I know what they like for lunch. I know everything about those kids and their families and that is something I've never felt as a teacher. That's the feeling I want every teacher to have, right? You're not just like making do and like... you know, swimming, swimming, swimming, you're actually not treading water, you're actually strategically deciding what's right for you. So impact is number one. The number two reason teachers start schools is because they want a better work life balance, believe it or not. Even though it's really hard to be an entrepreneur, you kind of always on, you get to control your schedule a little bit, right? Like you sort of decide the hours for your school and how many kids you want to serve. And maybe you want to do a four day a week school and not a five day a week school. So you get a lot more career flexibility than you do in traditional teaching roles. And then the third reason is, if your microschool is successful, you actually can earn more take home pay, you can actually earn more money. The typical microschool leader from our cohort is earning 80 to $90,000 when they're full. And that's a lot more money than they were earning as a conventional school teacher. So now I can't guarantee that, right? It depends on how many students you enroll, etc. the prices you set. But what I see as the writing on the wall is there are 10s of millions of parents ready for alternatives. They don't see them. And if you as a teacher want to create that alternative, you'll start to see families gravitate.

Kristi Oliva
Yeah, wow, I think this is such a good solution. I have a question… who? Where does the funding come? Like who's funding these microschools that then in turn pay the teacher's salary?

Amar Kumar
The most common source of funding is obviously tuition, right? These microschools often operate as private schools, right? They're small, private schools. So they charge a tuition just like a private school would and the teacher or the founder of the microschool decides what to set their tuition at. We obviously help them figure out what the right number might be based on their expenses, how many kids they want to serve, etcetera. So tuition is the number one source, the number two source is public funding. So in 12 states today, families who are opting out of public education, get an education savings account. And that education savings account is sort of like a debit card that a family can use to pay you as a microschool founder. And so now, it's not even coming out of the family's pocket anymore, it actually is a much more affordable solution. So states like Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia, etc. These are all states that are moving to an education savings account program. So if you're in one of these states, you can just Google states with ESA accounts. If you're in one of these states, you now have parents with this debit card that they're looking to spend at a school. And so your school could be that school.

Kristi Oliva
I mean, this is just such a great alternative, not only for teachers, but I think for parents who are sick of what's going on in schools, but know that they don't have what it takes necessarily, or maybe just don't want to be the one who's taking over that teaching role for their kids.

Amar Kumar
That's it, there's been so much popular press around the rise of homeschooling, right? Like there's so many more families homeschooling now than there were before the pandemic. And some people take that to say, Wow, homeschooling is going to take over. My take on that data is it's the canary in the coal mine. It's... I don't believe homeschooling is right for every family, right? It's just not all parents are ready to do that, are able to do that, or can afford to do that. However, the fact that so many parents are taking that step is the canary in the coal mine. That tells me there are a lot more parents ready to jump to an alternative if one existed in their community. So now imagine if you start a microschool in your community, and you say, Hey, I'm going to create an alternative learning environment. It's incredibly flexible, it's incredibly personalized. We will fit the experience to your child to make sure they are learning at their pace, the topics that they're interested in; and we're getting them ready for college, career, military, whatever is right for them. All of a sudden parents are like wow, like, that's like, hyper customization that I've always wanted, I didn't know I could have. So this is why microschools are very much the future.

Kristi Oliva
Yeah, this is so perfect. It really lines up with things that have going... been going through my head lately about my own kids. I have a first grader and a kindergartener... or a second grader and a kindergartener, and they go to a great school, but I just... with my platform at Leaving the Classroom, I have thought of like not just bringing teachers out of the classroom, but how can I serve the greater educational community and bring awareness to how we can improve the situation for all students because it's not equitable, even though the law says it should be, right? So let's go into logistics. Like let's say a teacher is listening to this and they say this sounds like exactly what I've been looking for. What do they need to have prepared? How do they take the first steps? What do they do next?

Amar Kumar
Yeah, so the first thing I say to you is go to my website called KaiPodlearning.com and look for the little section that says Catalyst. So Catalyst is the name of this program. And so the way it works is you… you'll get to an application, which is a handful of questions. So we've designed it to be very streamlined questions around who you are, why you want to start the school, what is your ideal vision for a school, and a one minute video, just speaking naturally, that's all you’ve got to do for the application. And you don't have to have all the details figured out. We expect 99% of people don't have the details figured out. But we want to hear passion, we want to hear commitment, we want to hear you say, I think this is what I need to do. I think this is what I'm being called to do in some way. And so that's the first step, then our team read the applications, we interview you with a 20 minute Zoom call. And we really try to go deeper into some of your answers just to understand. And like I said, it's okay to say I don't know, right, we don't need you to lie, we don't need you to make it up. If you're not ready, we just want you to say, here's what I think I'm going to do, but I need help shaping it. And then if you're accepted into a cohort, which kicks off in February, you enter this community of a bunch of other founders who are at the same stage as you. And these founders are teachers in other states. And this whole program is designed that you can work through it while you're still teaching. So while you're still in the classroom, so our meetings are usually in the evenings, it's once a week, and you're doing a bunch of work at your own pace to start your school. And so we go through all the stuff you need to know to come up with your financial plan, your business plan, your marketing plan, your location, selection, etc. And so the cohort helps you figure all those things out, while being in this community of other people who are doing the same thing at the same time.

Kristi Oliva
I really love this. I love this so much. It almost like makes me want to start my own microschool. So interesting to me. I've been thinking about this so much and my sister homeschools her kids and they do... I don't know if it's considered a microschool, but it sounds pretty similar. Oh, man, I just think that there are going to be so many educators who are like, this is the solution I've been looking for. I don't want to switch careers. And this sounds like exactly what I need. So I think you've told us exactly what they need to be able to do. What would you say would be the number one thing that you want them to keep in mind? When... if they decide to take this leap?

Amar Kumar
That it is a leap. I bet a lot of people are listening and saying this sounds great but that's not me. I don't see myself doing this. This seems like a big thing. And I want you to know that you're not alone. There are a lot of people who are in our cohort who three months ago, wouldn't have said that they would ever have been starting a microschool. But there was something niggling in the back of their mind that was saying, what I'm doing isn't what I'm meant to be doing. I'm meant to be doing something else. So this is not something that people naturally... most people naturally jump to, to say I'm going to become an education entrepreneur and start a microschool, or start a school, right? But it is something that once you get into it, you realize this is the thing I've been waiting for. So just know it's a leap. And if it feels scary, good, it should feel scary, right? You don't take big decisions lightly. And one of the things we talk about in the interview process, when you get to that stage is, How committed are you to this? Because it's going to get hard. There are going to be days where you're on the floor, saying, I've made a huge mistake, but we'll get you through those moments. But are you ready for those? And it requires a certain type of willingness to challenge the status quo and a willingness to take a risk. And since that sounds like you. Just put an application, that's all you got to do for the first step, you're not committing to anything. What we want to do is to see... to see your vision come to life. And if that's a vision that we say yeah, that's going to be compelling to parents, we'll tell you that, and then you can decide what to do from there.

Kristi Oliva
Yeah. So tell me a couple of examples of like, what... I know you're talking about, like kind of like a niche maybe that these educators can go into. Can you give us a couple of examples of the type of microschools that have started up?

Amar Kumar
Gosh, I'll give you so many. The beautiful thing about microschooling is that the founders are diverse, but also the schools are diverse. So to just give you some example. So we have a founder who's creating a school targeted at student athletes. Student athletes often have to make a trade off. Do I care more about school or do I care more about sports? And you can imagine, sometimes the kid makes a decision that the parents aren't happy with. So this microschool is designed to show how you balance both, how you prepare for life as a student athlete. There's another school that's designed to support adolescent black boys. So he's particularly designing support for black boys, middle teenage years, who need extra activity time, they need extra social supports and emotional supports. And he designed a microschool targeted at that. We have several founders who are designing schools targeted at neurodiverse students, those with autism with ADHD or dyslexia. And microschools can be incredibly powerful for kids with neurodiversity. We have founders who are targeting schools for gifted students. Gifted students often get left behind in conventional schools, because the teacher says you're already getting A's. I'm gonna go focus on someone else. Well, That's not fair to you. And so the parents are seeking alternatives for gifted students, and microschools can be incredibly valuable for those kids. So that's just four examples. I could give you 20 more.

Kristi Oliva
Sounds like the sky's the limit, whatever you can think of.

Amar Kumar
And if you just want to serve neurotypical kids who just want a small experience, that's fine, too. The idea... the goal here is like if you as a teacher, know your community, and you know that there's a group of kids who are not being served well, and you have a unique passion for them. That's the start of your microschool.

Kristi Oliva
Awesome. Well, so can you go ahead and tell us about your website one more time for all the teachers who are like, wait a second, how do you spell that? What was that? What is it called? Just give us where do they go?

Amar Kumar
I will spell it for you. So you can just go to Google, right? That's the easiest. It's k a i p o d, KaiPod and then Catalyst. That's the second word. So just type that in, or go to our website and find the section on Catalyst. You'll see the information. We're actually running webinars every week for the entire month of January and early February. So you can sign up for a webinar, and one of us will walk you through the process and walk you through the application, how it works, etc. I want to clarify, there's no upfront cost to join Catalyst. I'm very clear on this. I hate the accelerators or the incubators that charge teachers to be members. And we don't do that. The way our program works is it’s completely free to join. If you don't end up starting a school, that's it, you don't owe us anything, you're done. You go back to whatever you're doing. But if you do start a school, which we hope you do, and we're your partners for three years, and we sort of just charge like a revenue share. So that as you grow, we also succeed, we can reinvest into the program, but all of that is transparently described on our website, and we also talk about it in webinars. But if anyone's worried about cost, there's no upfront cost.

Kristi Oliva
That's amazing. Amar, this is so amazing. I just... it feels unreal, honestly, because it feels like the exact solution at the exact time that we need it.

Amar Kumar
You know, there's... sometimes people ask me why I called it KaiPod. KaiPod, the root of the word is Kairos, which is the right time.

Kristi Oliva
Look at that!

Amar Kumar
I really believe that it's the right time to do this. And so a lot of teachers are unhappy and want to find... I want to help you stay in education and still be in front of kids. This is a great way to do it.

Kristi Oliva
And so if they have further questions, should they go to the webinar? Or should… is there a place on the site where they can ask follow up questions?

Amar Kumar
Any of the above. So webinars probably the easiest way, right? Because you'll be around others who can also ask the question or get answers. If you want, you can just email us at [email protected], one of us will get back to you. Find us on Twitter, on Facebook, whatever you want. We have a Facebook group called Microschool Movement that you can join. We have hundreds of educators who are sort of just thinking about it. I say if your microschool curious. So if you're just microschool curious, join our Facebook group you're gonna get some continuing information. And again, if you're not ready to apply, that's okay. We're not pressuring anyone. So you can just say I'm interested but I'm not ready to apply you can just do that just so you start to think about it.

Kristi Oliva
Gosh, I feel like I could start a microschool in my area and have just extreme interest right now. It's tempting.

Amar Kumar
There you are. Well you're doing good work here so maybe we don't want you to change that.

Kristi Oliva
Thank you so much for being here, Amar. I'm so interested in this and I'm definitely going to be following up and I can't wait to see the progress of KaiPods and really see what comes about of this. I feel like you've just tapped into the future.

Amar Kumar
Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that. Take care.

Kristi Oliva
Do you want to leave the classroom but you're not sure where to start? Take the free Leaving the Classroom career quiz at idolcourses.com/leavingtheclassroom. It's time to take control and make the career change that will change your life. It changed mine. See you next time.

Kristi Oliva
That's all for this episode, but you can find more at idolcourses.com or subscribe to the podcast. And if you are ready to leave the classroom, use my code classroom100 and get $100 off enrollment to IDOL courses Academy.

Send your stories or your questions to [email protected] or share them with me on Instagram  @leavingtheclassroom.

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