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Midlife career change takes local biz owner back to school

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Starting your own business is challenging enough, never mind starting a business in a field you’ve no prior experience in after enjoying a successful career doing something else entirely.

In fact, for many people a midlife career change is often so fraught with uncertainty that they never do more than dip their toe in. This spring, Verona resident Mawara Sohail actually dove right into the deep end and so far she’s having no trouble staying afloat.

Sohail opened The Goddard School in Verona about two months ago and recently celebrated the early childhood education facility’s grand opening on June 4. A pharmacist by training, Sohail’s decision to open the school stemmed from her own search for an early education option for the two children she shares with her husband, Salman Ahmad.

“Before opening The Goddard School I had been staying home full time to care for our two children,” Sohail says. “When searching for childcare options for my own children I realized that there is a need (locally) for a high-quality, education-based program where health and safety is the top priority.”

Not finding the right fit among existing early childhood centers, Sohail’s research led her to The Goddard School, which operates more than 400 franchised schools in 35 states, and is based in Pennsylvania. “I saw The Goddard School as an opportunity to bring a top-quality program to our community and be able to spend time with my children. Both my children are currently enrolled at my school,” Sohail notes.

Pictured at the Goddard School – Verona’s grand opening celebration June 4 are, from left to right, Owner Mawara Sohail, Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer, Sohail’s husband, Salman Ahmad, and Goddard School Educational Director, Abbey Felder.

Having not owned a business before, Sohail opted to go with a franchise model because it offers a system of support, mentorship, and resources that she says allows its franchise owners to succeed. Goddard Systems, the school’s parent company, provided her with experts throughout each phase of development, from signing the franchise papers to hiring staff and everything in between.

Another challenge as a new business owner was finding the best location. Real estate is key, notes Sohail, and she wanted to make sure the school would be built in an area that actually needed it the most. “Luckily, we had scouts from Goddard Systems come out and help us narrow down our search from 35 potential sites to the address we are at now.”

Sohail was also connected with a long-time Goddard School franchisee to act as her mentor throughout the process. “With this mentor and other Goddard School owners, I was able to sit in on classes and dive headfirst into The Goddard School culture,” she says, “resulting in a better understanding of The Goddard School’s teaching philosophies.”

Though Goddard School franchisees are given a great amount of guidance and mentorship, Sohail explains they still enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom to alter certain aspects of their school to adjust to the needs of the local community.

Sohail cites offering meals to students, which states don’t always require early childhood centers to do, as something she wanted to include at the Verona location to make things easier for local students and their families.

“Another great aspect about The Goddard School franchise is that we also have a dual management system,” Sohail explains. “Neither my husband nor I have experience in teaching, so every Goddard School has an on-site owner and educational director who are responsible for the school’s curriculum, programming, and teacher development.”

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