Headshot of Phillip Hall, co-founder of Panoramic Learning Academy.
Panoramic Learning Academy Co-founder Phillip Hall aims to educate the "whole child" with his academy's preschool-age curriculum. — Panoramic Learning Academy

Phillip Hall is a man with a mission. He sums it up, “to educate the whole child, academically, socially, psychologically, nutritionally, physically and to include their families.” He is the co-founder of the Panoramic Learning Academy (PLA) in Berkeley, California, and co-developer of its model and curriculum.

In January 2020, he and his aunt, Renee McGhee, who had decades of experience in early childhood education, opened PLA. She had long wanted a day care but was stopped by the financial hurdles of starting a business. When Hall told her he would handle the money problem, she was set to go.

They were clear on the goal: “We wanted to help children, so they aren’t starting kindergarten behind in their skills, and to offer an affordable academy. We set out to not only provide a rigorous academic curriculum, with a focus on STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], but to emphasize nutrition, organic meals, [and] healthy snacks, and cater to the whole child and their families,” said Hall, who is in pharmaceutical sales and an educator at heart. “When they leave, they’re ready to be at the top of their class. We send them off with an assessment letter to give to their kindergarten teacher.”

PLA is small, with just nine preschool-age students, but they have huge plans. In January, they’ll launch another site in Alameda and are eyeing a third on the Oakland/Berkeley border. There’s demand. “A girl who started this summer was on the waiting list for a year. People are hearing about our program,” said Hall, who is also a recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB) 2022 Enhancement Grant.

Starting small was strategic. “We wanted to perfect things, make a blueprint, and expand,” said Hall. The site that opens in January can accommodate more than 20 children who will enjoy not only STEM, but music, movement, Black history, and more. PLA builds community, with families gathering for events like puppet shows or a Juneteenth lunch. “Parents have become friends; they get together on their own now,” said Hall.

We want to change the landscape, not just for early childhood education, but [for] retaining talent.

Phillip Hall, Co-founder, Panoramic Learning Academy

The entrepreneurial journey hasn’t been trouble-free, with challenges like a six-month delay in opening because of COVID. Social Services is required to do a site visit as part of the process to certify a day care and visits weren’t permitted during the height of the pandemic.

Hall is in the business of education, but he’s learned too, and is happy to spread his knowledge.

Push the envelope

The labor shortage continues. It took creativity to get four employees. He reached out to colleges with early education programs and is going beyond the industry norm by offering above-average pay, sign-on bonuses, and paying for gym memberships. “We want to change the landscape, not just for early childhood education, but [for] retaining talent.”

Learn to delegate

Much as he resisted, Hall stopped trying to do everything himself. “If you don’t delegate duties, you’ll burn out quickly. Build a team. I have my accountant, bookkeeper, executive assistant, and mentors,” he said.

Be patient

“Don’t grow too fast. We are moving at a nice rate, learning from the 'school of hard knocks,'” he said.

He has also made time to master grant writing. “Grants have helped us tremendously. We’ve made a profit since we opened.”

Look ahead

Forget winging it. “Always have a to-do list so you’re working smart versus working hard,” he said. It’s not only about wins—embrace losses and challenges, too. “Failure is a better teacher.”

Hall is looking forward, not just to the new centers in 2023, but beyond. “Franchising is on the horizon,” he said.

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