In the News

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”.

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Based in Overland Park, Canterbury Schools cares about the future.

Canterbury Schools consists of five locations employing the “Canterbury Method”, where trained staff teach students not only how to learn, but to love the process. Studying methods from such experts as Maria Montessori, Canterbury Schools creates a family-friendly environment.

The organization has offered resume reviews for parents, behavioral counseling services, parenting training, academic counseling, and even networking opportunities for parents. Students are also influenced outside the classroom through community service efforts. Students in kindergarten through first grade participated in an area clean up with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.

Established and operated by a husband-and-wife team since its inception in 2001, Canterbury Schools developed the Canterbury Parents’ and Students’ Foundation. With both Brandon and Sarah Vore serving as board members, the foundation has created a Canterbury Scholarship to supplement college expenses for Canterbury graduates and offers tuition assistance for preschool and elementary school students.

Canterbury Schools also participates in community service projects, having worked with the Sunflower House, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Harvesters Food Network, American Cancer Society, TLC for Children and Families, and the Lee Ann Britain Child Development Center, among others.

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Canterbury Schools make grade with accountability, involvement

Be it the gads of community involvement, the advanced use of technology, the dedicated staff or the high level of student accountability – whatever Canterbury Schools is doing, it is apparently ont eh right track.

“They seemed to find a niche,” said Jerry Brockhaus, whose granddaughter attends one of the preschools. “From the outside looking in, it just seems like it works.”

Canterbury Schools, a group of four schools offering care for infants through third graders, opened in 2001 when owners Sarah and Brandon Vore couldn’t find what they were looking for in a preschool for their oldest child.

Although they offer a modified Montessori program, little else resembles other traditional preschool or early elementary programs.

In their infant program – the only program in Kansas dedicated solely to infants – they use apnea monitors to keep an eye on the babies’ breathing while sleeping. An infant manager tracks each baby’s daily activities, including feeding, sleeping and playtime choices.

For the preschool kids, Canterbury holds a weekly life skills program teaching the children about topics from tsunamis to mergers (they are situated near the Sprint Nextel Corp. campus). And there is a large emphasis on civic involvement for the children that is modeled by the adults at the schools.

Both Vores volunteer on numerous charitable and civic organizations. Through the years, the school has donated coats, offered sponsorships, and collected pennies for a wide variety of non-profits.

Much of the rest of the staff has become involved in charitable causes for Team Canterbury, running in marathons or half marathons for Leukemia, cystic fibrosis and other causes.

The Vores recently established the Canterbury Parents’ and Students’ Foundation, which subsidized the tuition for 12 Canterbury students and will offer college scholarship money to students when they attend universities.

Sarah Vore said the goal is to create students who, at a young age, are sensitive to the needs of others and are “socially aware and philanthropically capable students.”

Brockhaus said a low-key marketing strategy works for the school.

“They don’t market the school,” he said.

Brandon Vore “just opens the doors,” Brockhaus said, and they are full.

The schools have had three straight years of growth. This is in spite of the fact that the infant program loses money each year because of the square footage and staffing requirements, Sarah Vore said.

Brockhaus who spends time as a youth mentor in the Blue Valley School District, said he knows what doesn’t work for kids.

“I see all the resources we have and the kind of money we spend and throw at (public schools),” he said. “And some kids still get thrown away in the public school system.”

He said it is a luxury that schools like Canterbury have smaller classrooms, hands-on opportunities and caring teachers. Although he can’t exactly put a finger on what makes Canterbury work, he said the staff is able to take children from various economic and social classes and create an atmosphere of accountability for all students.

As for future growth, Sarah Vore said there are a lot of opportunities for repeating the programs. She said they can provide the building, curriculum, and staff at other locations and bring individuals on as partners who operate the schools.

Vore said she is keeping a “death grip” on expansion plans to ensure quality and uniformity at all of the schools.

“We have done everything for the last ten years to build this reputation,” she said. “And there is never going to be growth at the price of the program.”

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In the year since Canterbury School’s first nomination as a Top Ten Small Business, Sarah and Brandon Vore have opened two new schools, adding 150 students to their enrollment. Responding to parents’ needs, they expanded their program to include infant care, creating the only facility in Kansas entirely dedicated to the care of infants.

Canterbury is a whole-family business: the Vores’ children are students there (along with 448 youngsters from infant to third grade). Canterbury offers athletics, fine arts, performing arts, foreign languages, music and ethics curricula in addition to exceptional academics and rigorous assessments. And the Vores promote community involvement for their students through monthly charity projects.

The Vores say their business philosophy is one of role-modeling from the top down, with two guiding principles; not asking anything of their staff that they are not willing to do themselves, and not providing anything to their customers that is less than what they would accept for their own children.

The teachers are essentially Canterbury’s “product”, so the schools provide a complete and creative benefit plan.

They offer free preschool, elementary school, and child care to the staff – increasing the teachers’ personal investment in the school. There’s personal support as well: Sarah Vore has done everything from testifying in a teacher’s custody case to providing free housing for teachers and their families in dire circumstances.

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If the family that works together stays together, then Brandon and Sarah Vore are in for a long happy life.

As the owners of Canterbury Preparatory School, they spend most of their waking hours either physically at the school or doing work related to its administration.

They generally arrive at Canterbury, with their two daughters in tow, about 7:30 a.m. and leave about 6 p.m. They use their evenings for staff training and weekends for maintenance and improvements.

Canterbury opened in 2001, and has 285 students enrolled from preschool through second grade. The Vores hope to eventually offer classes up to sixth grade.

Sarah Vore serves as director, training and overseeing the staff, while Brandon is the administrator, managing the business office.

Opening their own school was not the career path the Vores originally chose.

Brandon left Kansas City for the East Coast, where he worked for an Internet company, and Sarah Vore was a medical student. But, they made the life-changing decision to more back to the Midwest.

Education wasn’t totally new to the couple. Brandon’s family had run preschools in the Kansas City area for many years, and Sarah had a degree in child psychology and had been a preschool teacher.

They took over operations for one of the Vore family preschools before opening Canterbury.

The Vores’ investment in the school is more than just financial; they also have an educational interest. Their two daughters attend the school.

“Parents see our own children in the same program as theirs, and they know that we can truly sympathize with their concerns,” Vore said.

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Canterbury Preparatory School is at the head of its class. This private Overland Park preschool and elementary school offers local parents a quality educational alternative for their children. The school’s original curricula and commitment to teaching its students about their responsible role in the world has made Canterbury a model Montessori institution. Owners Brandon and Sarah Vore believe Canterbury Preparatory School’s goal should be not only to teach children how to learn, but also how to love the process.

Canterbury offers athletics, fine arts, foreign languages, music, and ethics programs in addition to their regular academics and rigorous assessments.

Currently serving 300 students, these entrepreneuring educators also hold the firm belief that students can and should support their communities through volunteer activities. Teachers instill this commitment to the community by leading through example. The Vores encourage their educators to demonstrate personal volunteerism. The school also donates time and funds as an organization. Some groups the Canterbury staff work with are American Cancer Society Penny Drive, St. Jude’s Trike-A-Thon, City Union Mission, and the KC Zoo Adopt-a-Wild-Child program.

The Vores further promote philanthropy through other efforts at the school. They have instigated the Canterbury Parents’ and Students’ Foundation charity drives, and have provided tuition assistance to students in need. They have set up a Canterbury Scholarship, intended to supplement future college expenses of Canterbury graduates. The school participated as a mentee in the 2003 class of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. These owners are also personally committed to their community. They are strong participants in the Greater Kansas City and Overland Park Chambers of Commerce, and inaugural members of ImpactKC. Their commitment to the educational experience is apparent in their efforts to serve as mentors for college-aged students participating in the Coro Kansas City summer leadership program. The Vores also realize that their teachers are one of Canterbury’s most important assets. To develop a strong ationship with staff, Brandon and Sarah provide a creative benefits plan that is negotiable. They offer free preschool and childcare to personnel. Sarah also strongly feels that the personal welfare of the teachers is necessary for the operation of a great school, so she uses her background in psychology to help teachers through personal struggles and issues.

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Sarah Vore said she believes in preparation.

As the owner and director of the Canterbury Preparatory School, Inc. in Overland Park, it’s a necessity.

“In this business, (you have to) know it inside and out, backwards and forwards,” she said. “If you can’t do everybody’s job, then you shouldn’t have your job at the top.”

Vore and her husband, Brandon, opened the school in August 2001. Vore attended the University of Connecticut Medical School in 1996 but decided to switch careers in her first year. She and her husband, who is from Stilwell, moved to the area from Boston in 1997.

Her husband’s family had been in the daycare business for about 25 years, she said “and we decided to take it up a notch and started a Montessori preschool and elementary school.”

Vore said her motivation comes from her children, who attend the school. “I want what’s best for them, and I get to be with them all day long,” she said.

Her motivation also comes from the job’s dynamic nature, she said. “I do something different every minute of every day,” she said. “I like working with the children and the parents and the facilities management.”

Tracey Kruel likes working with Vore, too. Kruel is the mother of two boys who’ve attended Canterbury since it opened. Her younger son had behavioral disorders when he started at the school at age 3, she said.

“At this point in time, my son is reading at almost a fourth grade level,” Kruel said. “He’s confident. He has an abundance of friends. He has a wonderful attitude. Literally, Canterbury is not just a school to us; it’s become the center of our life.”

The Vores are building another school in Olathe that will accommodate 100 students. It’s slated for completion in January.

She said the hardest part of running her business is “being able to sort out what outcomes are the direct consequences of my actions and which are circumstantial or industry issues.”

“A challenge in this industry is that you’re working with and caring for your clients’ most prized possessions,” she said.”You really can’t take a day off because you’re working for children. You can’t slack off at all.”