Phil Schwenk: An American Classical Education Charter School Could Save Taxpayers in Fast Growing Counties a Lot of Money

Phil Schwenk: An American Classical Education Charter School Could Save Taxpayers in Fast Growing Counties a Lot of Money

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed American Classical Education’s Phil Schwenk in studio to discuss the process by which a charter school application is accepted and how much a school would save taxpayers of growing Tennessee counties.

Leahy: In studio with us, our very good friend, Phil Schwenk, our favorite Quaker, Penn graduate, who’s also working with American Classical Education and will be a principal of one of these five schools. And five counties. And you’re describing the process whereby you get the opportunity to get approved by the local school board.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: So you’ve put the applications in and where are we right now with these?

Schwenk: The applications have been submitted as of February 1st, got it. So all these districts have the application.

Leahy: Five weeks ago.

Schwenk: Yes. And it gives them time to look over this 500-page plus behemoth with all.

Leahy: And I’m sure they read every single page. I can’t wait to read page 385 of this behemoth. (Laughter)

Schwenk: Yes, I’m sure that’s what’s happening. And they do it the first day they get it. But yeah, so it gives them time to look at it. And then basically we have a setting where we end up being in front of them addressing any questions that they might have about it with what is called capacity hearings.

Leahy: It’s a capacity hearing. Do you have a capacity hearing on the horizon?

Schwenk: Yes. In fact, we have two next week. Where are they? On the 15th is Montgomery, and on the 16th is Rutherford County.

Leahy: Okay. So what happens in a capacity hearing? Is it before the school board?

Schwenk: It is.

Leahy: Is it a special session of the school board? Is it open to the public?

Schwenk: Yes, absolutely.

Leahy: You got this 500-page behemoth that I’m sure they’ve studied from beginning to end that you’ve put together. What kind of questions do they ask at the capacity hearing?

Schwenk: They have a rubric that’s been provided for them that they’re supposed to judge the application by.

Leahy: So the rubric is a set of questions and standards to be met. Who gives them that rubric, that standard?

Schwenk: It generally comes from the state. Of course, they can come up with rubrics of their own to look at, but it’s supposed to be something that comes through state law.

These are the things that a school is supposed to have and it has everything from the academic plan to the operations, finances, and everything that makes a school a school. And the questions they have, they have to do with those areas depending on where they see as either strengths or deficiencies in application to see clarity.

Leahy: You are the lead person there?

Schwenk: Joel Schellhammer. The two of us will be there.

Leahy: He is the overall head of American Classical American Education? And so you go in, and they ask these questions, and then how long do these capacity hearings take typically?

Schwenk: About an hour and a half.

Leahy: Not that long. What happens next?

Schwenk: Then we answer the questions and then we have to wait a couple of weeks to see what they decide. So by late April or early May, we should know if our schools have been approved in these localities.

Leahy: Oh, okay. So it’s that quick? Is it a majority vote or?

Schwenk: Yes, absolutely.

Leahy: And will you have these capacity hearings in all five counties this month?

Schwenk: No, we have three this month, two next month.

Leahy: But by the end of April, all the capacity hearings will be completed.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: And you should know by the end of May or June…

Schwenk: Oh, by then, definitely.

Leahy: What the school boards are gonna decide? I’m particularly interested in Maury County because I live in Spring Hill, where two-thirds of it is in Williamson County, and a third is in Maury County. And I live in the Williamson County side of it. By the way, just as an aside, you wanna talk about population growth?

Oh my goodness. I saw a list of the largest cities in Tennessee. Clarksville is the fourth largest, with 170,000 people roughly up in Montgomery County. Murfreesboro is the fifth largest, with 165,000 people, in Rutherford County. Wow! And then Spring Hill, which is part in Williamson, part in Maury County, is like the 14th largest city. It’s about 56,000 people. It’s added 6,000 people in three years.

Schwenk: Oh, yeah. No. Rutherford and Maury County are the fastest-growing counties.

Leahy: They’re growing like crazy now. I’ve talked to a lot of people in Maury County, and they are having a very hard time providing schools to keep up with the population and then funding for those schools. Just even building them. If the school board were to approve your charter application there, how much money would the county have to build a charter school there?

Schwenk: Zero.

Leahy: Zero?

Schwenk: We would do that. We’re either going to build a facility or refurbish an existing building.

Leahy: So there’s zero expense?

Schwenk: We’d be saving the district tens of millions.

Leahy: Just from a pure dollars and cents perspective, your charter school would be saving taxpayers in these fast-growing counties a huge amount of money. We’re talking what, $10-$15 million bucks?

Schwenk: Or more,$30-$50 to build schools. They are expensive. Schools are expensive.

Leahy: Wow. And so if you build one, where do you get the money?

Schwenk: We have several private donors. So we have people who’ve established a fund for us to use.

Leahy: That’s a lot of dough.

Schwenk: Yes. It’s a lot of dough that’s able to get more dough. That’s how money works. But yes, we’ve had very generous donors for American Classical Education, and that’s what gives us the ability.

Leahy: My immediate reaction to this is, and this is part of the Barney Charter School Initiative or related to it?

Schwenk: Yes, definitely, our curriculum and our support of the teachers is through the BCSI network, but American Classical Education is where the money would come from a separate entity.

Leahy: But it’s a proven commodity.

Schwenk: Oh, hands down.

Leahy: And the outcomes from people that use the schools that used this curriculum are very good for students, right?

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely. That’s how I got into this work. I started at a BCSI school in Toledo. There are currently 22 BCSI schools. So you can look at the data and they’ve all done very well. That’s the type of school that we are hoping to start here in Tennessee.

Leahy: You’ve got a great track record. It’s not going to cost taxpayers a dime. This fits in the category of a brainer.

Schwenk: I think I struggle with, and I know this personally, these schools are very good. I love kids, the parents, this work, and the teachers. You are bringing something that is a known commodity, it is a good school, it benefits students and makes them more knowledgeable and good. You have decent good people that come out of these schools and we are going to save you a significant amount of money.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Phil Schwenk” by Northwest Ohio Classical Academy. Background Photo “Students in Class” by Max Fischer.

















Phil Schwenk: Teaching Virtue to Children Gives Them Purpose, Lessens Depression and Anxiety

Phil Schwenk: Teaching Virtue to Children Gives Them Purpose, Lessens Depression and Anxiety

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed American Classical Education Principal Philip Schwenk in studio to discuss how a classical education will help children develop the important sense of purpose through virtue.

Leahy: There’s a topic Phil that you talk about all the time, and the more you talk about it, the more I think it’s critically important. This is not a topic that usually is heard on morning radio talk shows, but I wanna talk about it right now. Virtue. You talk about that all the time…

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: As one of the purposes of schools. Why do you focus on virtue?

Schwenk: That’s why we call ourselves classical schools, it’s always been central to education, period. If you go back thousands of years, there’s always been a discussion around not just being learned for the sake of being able to read or write or to speak, but you’re seeking what is true and what is good.

And that happiness is at that cross-section of goodness, truth, and beauty. In order to be part of what we call the great conversation you need to be able to talk about virtues, so kids need to be part of a conversation where they’re discussing what it means to be prudent or moderate or courageous or wise. And it’s not a new conversation. We’ve been talking about this for thousands of years.

Carmichael: Do you think in the absence of being taught, the importance of being virtuous, do you think in the absence of that people grow up to be not virtuous?

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely. And I think that most people historically would agree with that, and it’s inconsistent with what we value as a country. If you actually read a lot of the documents of the original Founding Fathers to have a truly democratic republic, it should be run by good people. And if you’re not teaching people how to be good and virtuous, you’re gonna struggle with the entire balance of all those things.

Carmichael: If you’re not teaching someone the importance of being virtuous, then as voters, it’d be very hard for them to identify and vote for the person who’s virtuous because it’s a lot easier to vote for the person who says, vote for me and I’ll give you something.

Schwenk: Oh, sure. And even beyond the person, just the idea that there is something in good or true to orient towards. If you don’t have anything to orient towards, it doesn’t orient your voting or how you’re gonna make choices. And the advantage we have in classical schools is this isn’t something that we’re deciding right now as a thing. We can give them thousands of documents of writers and thinkers over the years.

Leahy: You go back to Socrates and Plato—even Thales before that.

Schwenk: Absolutely. And most modern Americans have no idea what you were just talking about. And so the discussion is something that when you get kids to talk about that starting early, the idea of virtue is you start in kindergarten. It’s not that you don’t just talk to a, 15-year-old about virtue. You can start teaching children about what it means to be courageous or friendly or moderate.

Leahy: I guess this would be politically incorrect because you wanna talk about virtue and not gender fluidity. (Laughter) I kid.

Schwenk: Socrates wasn’t talking about that. I think most of us, even if we’re not taught about it, have an idea that there is something good. But I think we’ve lost sight of that. Good is something that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s not just, I get to define what is good, and I think one of the areas that classical schools talk about is really the evidence of thousands of years of some of the big questions that human beings still have.

But we’re not necessarily trying to understand what the answers to those questions are. Human beings always want to know about purpose. Why am I here? Why does that exist or what does it mean to love or to be courageous? In our day today, I think it’s very difficult to be courageous and I think most people don’t even really understand what courage is because we’re not talking about it in our schools.

Carmichael: Do you think somebody who is asking the question, why am I here believes in God?

Schwenk: I think obviously the original intention of that discussion that came to conclusions that obviously there was a, you had to talk about God, I think most Americans struggle with that now cause we’re not supposed to be talking about things like that. I think most people lead to, there must be something bigger, that orients how we do things. And that’s always been part of, it’s not a new discussion again.

Leahy: There have been an awful lot of reports that young children and teenagers struggle with depression, and anxiety. And it’s been heightened by social media, but it’s also been heightened in my view by the lack of purpose in the lives of many children and many teenagers. Do you see that the discussion and teaching of virtue will improve that situation?

Schwenk: 100 percent. It’s a population I’ve been around for, going on 30 years. I watched teenagers most of my life, and one of the growing issues that I see with teenagers that I think is linked to the anxiety and depression you are talking about. They don’t know what their purpose is. They don’t even know why they’re here. And nobody’s talking about the orientation towards something good. They’re floating lost, and it’s hard to watch.

When you start getting them into a discussion about these questions that have been going on, and they can read literature and histories on these things, they can start putting themselves in those spaces and connecting to a character, a historical issue, and start recognizing purpose in those things. But yes, I think we have a whole generation of kids that basically feel purposeless and they’re aimless.

Leahy: I see that all the time. And when they’re purposeless and aimless, they watch cat videos on TikTok, for instance.

Schwenk: Hour upon hour, upon hour. Yes.

Leahy: Personally, I’d like to have a big overarching goal.

Carmichael: By the way, you described it is that somebody who is purposeless by definition has no goals. And if you don’t have any goals and you get up in the morning, you start the day. What’s the point? And that’s not a good place. That’s not a good way to start the day.

Leahy: What’s the point of this day? Let me just go back to bed.

Carmichael: That’s not good. I like the way you express that because teaching purpose and teaching virtue is absolutely central to helping people grow up to become fulfilled and happy.

Schwenk: I agree.

Leahy: So how do you teach that to kids in today’s culture? Let’s say you’ve got you we’ve got a K 5 American Classical Education school using that classical model and part of the charter school initiative operating next fall. How do you teach virtue in your curriculum?

Schwenk: I think there are some basics there. One, you have to define terms and then you have to model it. So much of my work as an administrator is making sure that you put adults in front of students that can model these behaviors or they’re doing their best to model these behaviors.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.

















Phil Schwenk: American Classical Education Now Has Charter School Applications Before Local School Boards in  Five Tennessee Counties

Phil Schwenk: American Classical Education Now Has Charter School Applications Before Local School Boards in Five Tennessee Counties

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Phil Schwenk of American Classical Education in studio to describe the difference between a public school and a public charter school.

Leahy: Back in studio, our very good friend Phil Schwenk with American Classical Education. Good morning, Phil.

Schwenk: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Leahy: You’ve been coming here and talking to us for a little bit over a year now.

Schwenk: That’s crazy. I can’t believe it’s been a year.

Leahy: It’s been a lot of fun. And, of course, you’re very accomplished. I guess I would say my favorite Quaker.

Schwenk: I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you.

Leahy: You graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. You’re Quaker. But really, a terrific background in education. After you graduated from Penn, you went and taught in public schools in Los Angeles.

Schwenk: I did for a long time.

Leahy: And enjoyed it.

Schwenk: Very much. I like kids, and I like teachers.

Leahy: That’s exactly right.

Schwenk: I get inspiration from them.

Leahy: Then you got involved in charter schools and have been involved in charter schools ever since, and now you are on track to become, I guess you call it principal, not headmaster, principal of American Classical Education, which has applied for charter schools here in Tennessee.

Bring us up to speed on where you have applied to charter schools, which counties, I guess what, five counties, and tell our listeners what the process is and where you are in the process.

Schwenk: The five counties that we’re looking at are Montgomery, Madison, Maury, Robertson, and Rutherford. So you have those five counties. On February first, our applications were due. So it’s a nice behemoth of an application. Over 500 pages.

Leahy: 500 pages.

Schwenk: Yes. It’s quite an application. We have to make hard copies too, so you have to deliver hard copies of this.

Leahy: (Chuckles) It’s you know when you go in and you see the budget of the United States, right?

Schwenk: It’s something like that. Yes. It feels like that. And then that gives them about two months to look over the application.

Leahy: Now you send these to whom, the applications?

Schwenk: They basically are gonna go to the school boards, and they usually have committees that look over these.

Leahy: So the way the law reads here in Tennessee to get a public charter school approved, your first step is to go to the local school board.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: And can you explain again to our listeners what exactly is different between a charter school and a K 12 public school?

Schwenk: They’re both public schools. So it’s important to recognize that. Meaning that any students in that county, so Maury County, for example, any of those students could come to our school. But a charter school is by definition it’s an option that the community has desired to have.

So they may have their local school, and they decide that there’s some other type of school that they would like to have. In our case, it’s a classical school. And so what they do is they basically open an independent school within that district.

Leahy: Tell us what a classical school is.

Schwenk: That could be a few hours.

Leahy: You’ve 30 seconds. (Laughter)

Schwenk: It’s basically the method by which we teach. I would actually say it’s something; it’s not new. It’s been around for a while.

Leahy: It’s more traditional.

Schwenk: Yes, it’s more you have a teacher who’s seen as a wise, good person to teach your kids. So it’s more what we call sage on the stage instead of the guide on the side.

Leahy: See, now you’ve been in here many times. That’s the first time I’ve heard sage on the stage versus guide on the side. That’s a great phrase.

Schwenk: If I could take credit for it, that’d be great. But in the world of education, we kind of look at it, we’ve moved away from that, meaning that it’s pushed more to teachers being on the side kind of guiding their students. Historically the teacher’s always been a person of wisdom and virtue, someone to emulate for students. And I think classical education moves more toward that.

Leahy: Got it. So we know it’s a public charter school using a classical education curriculum model.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: And so the process is, step one is you go to the local school board. And here in Tennessee, typically there are, they call them local education agencies, I think.

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: There’s 145 of them, and each county basically has one, and you’re in front of their 95 counties, and there are some cities. You have now submitted the applications in five counties. Maury County, Madison County, which is the Jackson area, Rutherford County, Robertson, and Montgomery. So those are the five.

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: So the applications are before the school board?

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: And then there’s another step in the process.

Schwenk: Yes.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.





























Phil Schwenk: Classical Education Is About ‘Making a Person Literate, Numerically Sound, Logical, Reasonable, and a Good Human Being’

Phil Schwenk: Classical Education Is About ‘Making a Person Literate, Numerically Sound, Logical, Reasonable, and a Good Human Being’

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the original all-star panelist and American Classical Education’s Philip Schwenk in studio to talk about the school’s main objective of working with local school boards and supply clarity to misinformation.

Leahy: In studio, the original all-star panelist, Crom Carmichael, also a very good friend, Phil Schwank, who’s with American Classical Education. Great background in education. Crom, you, and I were catching up on the process that Phil is going through with American Classical Education.

And just a reminder, the first time you were about a year ago in studio talking about all this stuff, Phil, it looks like you’ve got your capacity hearings before these school boards.

Carmichael: How many different school boards?

Schwenk: Five.

Leahy: And they’re in Maury County, Rutherford County, Robertson County, Montgomery County, and Madison County, which is the Jackson area.

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: And that those capacity hearings will be held over the next two months. And then the boards will vote over the next month or two after that. So we’ll know if you’ve got approvals. And as we talked about, it seems to me to be a total no-brainer, particularly in these areas where they are growing like crazy.

You mentioned something to me during the break that the idea here is you want to have a good, positive relationship with the local education agencies, it’s basically the county school boards. And then in some areas, we have city school boards, but it’s all before counties. So talk about that positive relationship that you develop with the local education agency.

Schwenk: Sure. One of the things that we’ve had to outline and it often gets, there’s a lot of misinformation, is that this is meant to be contentious and it’s not. We’re an organization, and I’m an individual that cares deeply about students. And my hope is to be in a dialogue with these local districts around those students and how we can work with them to do this work.

I think the only thing that there’s any kind of differentiation is we’re just basically advocating that parents should have a choice as to whether students go to school, but it’s not meant to be contentious. In fact, a lot of these, if we can, if we’re okayed or given a yes by these districts, the hope would be to be working with these districts in the work around these kids.

Leahy: Crom, choice that’s not contentious. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Carmichael: I have a few questions about the schools that are open because I think as I was driving in, I think you said there’re 22 that are open. And you start with K-5 and then you add one a year…

Schwenk: That’s correct.

Carmichael: I guess up for seven years, and you’re adding to get to 12. Once it’s matured, how many students are in a school?

Schwenk: The model that we’re presenting would be around 700 kids.

Leahy: K-12?

Schwenk: Yes.

Leahy: By the way, it’s interesting about the school size. My dad was a principal in a school in upstate New York and every time there was this consolidation pressure, they wanted to centralize schools, and put them together. I went to one school that was K-12, 350 kids, another school, K-12 was 700 kids, another school, K-12 was like 1,400 kids. Every one of them had pressure to centralize and get bigger. Everything I’ve seen said that the best size school is like 500 for a thousand K-12, somewhere in that range. Is that right?

Schwenk: That’s absolutely true.

Carmichael: It’s the fact that it’s 12 or 13 grades. And so 13 grades divided into 700 is about 50-60 per class. That’s a pretty small class which means you can keep track of the educational achievements of each student. That’s a big deal. What percentage of those who attend school drop out?

Schwenk: Oh, very few. In the BCSI schools, the graduation rates of the various schools are well over 90 percent.

Leahy: And let’s be clear on the language, BCS is a Barney Charter School that uses a particular classical education curriculum. And they’ve been around for a while.

Carmichael: And then what percentage of those who graduate, which is almost all who attend, what percentage of those go on to college?

Schwenk: The majority. I would say 70, 80 plus.  They all do something. Some go into the military. Some go into trades and learn skills and those types of things.

Carmichael: For those who aren’t particularly interested in college, do they have a trade? Are they qualified or do you help guide them as part of the guidance process upon graduation, saying, I think based on your educational results here and your aptitude and your interests here’s what we would encourage you to consider?

Schwenk: It’s the latter part of what you said, meaning that classical education is really about making a person literate, numerically sound, logical, reasonable, and a good human being. That’s what we’re trying to do. Our desire is when you have these, learned good people come out. Some will decide to go to college, some will go into the military, and some will go into the trades.

And that’s the idea, that we have good people who become lawyers, good people that become plumbers, good people that become soldiers so that when you start directing them, a lot of that comes out of the interest of those students because there’s a lot of kids that might be actually very strong academically that desire to go into like the military for example.

In fact, the military, a lot of kids that are going to the military are well-trained people academically. So it’s not our task as a classical school to direct them to a trade or occupation. It’s that they are able to reason learn, be rhetorically sound, good human beings that may decide to go in various directions.

Carmichael: You’re applying to five different school districts in middle Tennessee?

Schwenk: Yes, that’s correct.

Carmichael: If you were to get all five, do you all have the capacity to open five schools?

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely.

Carmichael: Wow. In 2024?

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely.

Leahy: Let’s use Maury County as an example, right? You say you would start K-five. What will happen is you do your capacity hearing before the school board in the next two months. And then they’ll make a decision. And let’s say you get a positive decision; you’re immediately going out and looking for a place for this K-5 school, right?

Schwenk: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure. Some of that, looking at a lesser level, is already happening. But obviously, if it became a real thing, we would be getting a facility, setting up the personnel, starting to look for teachers and administrators, and all the things that happen to put a school together. It’s a lot.

Leahy: Because we say, oh, why can’t it be this fall? And no.

Schwenk: Not in any reasonable capacity. (Laughs)

Leahy: He laughs hilariously.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.