913 Biz Article Kansas City Star 2014
Sarah Vore thought she was going to practice medicine, but on her way through medical school at the University of Connecticut, she changed her mind. It was 1997, and Vore was living in Boston with her husband, Brandon, whom she met after her undergraduate studies in psychology at Yale University.
“We made a life decision that we would move to Kansas because he was a Blue Valley guy,” Vore said.
Brandon Vore sold his dot-com company, and Sarah took a leave of absence from med school, and the couple headed back to the Midwest.
Today, the Johnson County mother of five co-owns Canterbury Preparatory School in Overland Park, along with four other Johnson County early childhood education schools and one on the Missouri side of the metro. Each school caters to a particular mix of children, with some including infant care and others incorporating education through the third grade. All the schools in the Canterbury system follow what Vore calls a modified Montessori curriculum using a lot of technology in the classroom.
“We absolutely adhere to certain Montessori principles with a lot of student-directed activities.” She said. Vore pulled from her psychology background in tweaking the curriculum used in their schools.
Q: How did you get into early childhood education?
Vore was the second oldest of 12 children, so she grew up in a big family. Several of her siblings were adopted, and some had special needs.
“My mother made a career out of parenting,” said Vore. When the couple moved to Kansas City, the opportunity to work with children in a pre-school setting came up.
“We had the opportunity to take over a Montessori school in Shawnee called Peppermint Patty’s,” Vore said. “I wrote the curriculum that I felt really fit the children, and I ran the organization. I really cut my teeth there.”
After three years, Vore made another major decision.
“I wanted a school to be my own thing,” Vore said. “I wanted something that would be ours from the ground up.”
The Vores found a spot at 6820 W. 121st Street and built their first school. Sarah Vore had very specific design ideas in mind and was engaged in the building process.
“We designed a building that accented the curriculum,” she said.
Financing for the building came through a bank in Fort Scott, Kan., “that decided to take a risk with us, and we’re still with them,” Vore said. The school’s doors opened in August 2001, offering programming for toddlers and preschoolers only; today that location cares for children from birth through third grade.
“We absolutely owned every step of the process,” she said. “If we thought it was going to rain we would go up and put tarps over the windows that weren’t in yet.”
Canterbury Academy at Shawnee Crossings in Shawnee opened in 2005, followed by more locations.
“I was feeling pressured by the parents to add baby and infant care, but I wanted to do it right,” Vore said. “That was a very overwhelming time… there’s never a perfect time. You do struggle. You decide to put up with the pain.”
Q: Why did you create separate companies for each school?
“Each school is an individual S corporation – a separate company,” Vore said. “Our staffing company is a separate company that hires all employees for the schools. It has been efficient for staffing.”
The Vores also own an intellectual property company for their curriculum.
Q: You have expanded to a number of schools. Why not franchise?
The Vores considered the franchise option, but struggles with how they would manage things, especially with a young family.
“We ended up with a hybrid instead,” she said. “We will allow staff to buy into the company. They buy into it but don’t have to have the burden of being responsible for the entire thing. I can provide them with the support they need but they don’t have to take on everything. I can provide them with all the support they need but they still have a choice.”
Q: What do you find most challenging in running your business?
“The hardest thing for me is getting feedback,” Vore said. “It’s difficult to get good feedback on what you are doing in a timely fashion. I listen hard all the time.”
Vore periodically calls parents to learn their opinions and chats regularly with school directors. She’ll also go along on potential parent tours to listen to their questions and concerns.
Vore focuses on maintaining the high quality of education her schools focus on.
“I work to make sure staff is happy, equipped and capable,” she said. “Having a staffing company with a common values base had helped tremendously. We focus on taking care of people.”
Q: What about expansion?
“Six schools are good,” Vore said. “I’ve got a great system and I want to enjoy my family”.