For Countryside Academy founder and board president George McManus III, charter schooling is an approach that’s always been grounded in simple good sense.
“The six founders of Countryside were all farmers in Berrien County with children attending various school systems. We felt the charter school concept would allow us to create a learning environment for our kids that closely reflected our values as parents,” McManus said. “We developed a theme based on agriculture and environmental science. The six founders all served as board members.”
During the past quarter century, McManus says he’s learned a lot.
“Being a board member at Countryside Academy has been my second education,” McManus suggests. “I was not trained in education, so learning education law was new and interesting. Also, working with truly dedicated people at the school as well as supportive parents has been a blessing for me.”
Despite early obstacles, which included a federal court challenge and the work associated with establishing a school location, McManus says Countryside has become a local success story.
“Enrollment has grown to over 700 students, and we’ve expanded our facilities over the years to include a gymnasium, Early Learning Center Campus, and 107 acres of land,” McManus reports. “Our newest addition is our Agricultural Resource Center. We’ve also developed CTE agriculture and aviation programs.”
McManus’ experiences as a board member have proven to be very positive. Today, he says he understands education law more fully and enjoys strong relationships with truly dedicated people. He also appreciates the challenges associated with delivering a quality learning experience to local students.
“Starting a charter school is a lot of work if you want to do it well. And in the beginning the project was grueling. But as the days, weeks, months and years passed, our little school grew, appropriate policies were put in place to guide us, new programs and facilities were added, and financial stability was attained,” McManus said. “Then came the first graduating class and I knew all of our achievements as a board were going to pay off for kids each year. It always comes back to the kids. I realize what we have accomplished every year on graduation day.”