Vanita Rodde has had the dream of owning her own business since she was 17 years old. That dream was realized after 20 years of experience working hard at prioritizing and planning, and receiving a little help thanks to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
She is the proud owner of the Blue Skies Montessori School Inc., one of West Seattle’s few Montessori preschool educational establishments. Starting up a niche business is not easy, and it was the culmination of more than 30 years as a childcare teacher, educator, director and ultimately, business owner.
From assisting a friend with bookkeeping and creating staff handbooks at a daycare center to taking dozens of college classes and receiving several certifications, Rodde has been able to move up the ranks to obtain her dream of owning a Montessori preschool and is so happy to call herself “boss.”
Rodde discovered her passion for owning her own business after two years as a director at a major childcare corporation. “Working in the corporate world really set my mind that I was going to have my own facility one day,” Rodde said. “(The corporate daycare system) just became too impersonalized for me, with hundreds of kids, 30 plus staff; I am geared to do my own thing.”
Rodde experienced several detours on the path to entrepreneurship. Her biggest off-the-trail move was to leave daycare all together and work with abused and neglected children at a local non-profit organization. For five years, she picked up new skills learning about a different population of children and families, rounding out her knowledge base for establishing her own business.
She began to realize her strengths and interests were different than just watching over children as a teacher. Rodde wanted to be an educator, to help guide children in learning and life – to provide preschoolers a Montessori education.
Thanks to an education benefit through the non-profit organization, she earned a Montessori Teacher Training certification. Montessori education emphasizes independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, including society technological advancements. Students use a “discovery” model for development, learning concepts by working with materials, rather than by direct instruction. “I had to rethink how I taught on focus on new things with Montessori,” Rodde said.
She opened Blue Skies Montessori School in 1997 after leasing a building space on California Avenue Southwest in West Seattle. Like many new business owners, she experienced the full gamut of emotions surrounding uncertainty about her income. “I went from a job getting a regular paycheck to wondering if I was going to ever get a paycheck again,” Rodde said.
That uncertainty soon subsided as she realized her many skills helped propel her through the rough first years of business management. She credits her family for help in providing extra assistance in bookkeeping and teaching at her school.
Due to disagreements regarding the lease, Rodde decided it was time for her own space. She reached out to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resource partner Community Capital Development in Seattle to discuss buying her own property and loan options.
Rodde met with CCD Loan Officer Roland Chaiton, who assisted her in receiving an SBA backed 7 (a) loan for nearly $200,000. Besides serving as the loan officer, Chaiton provided Rodde counseling about her business plan, understanding cash flow projections and buying the new property to establish the new school. “Roland helped me get everything with the loan together, including covering balancing, budgeting; all those things that help you understand where your business is financially and how to plan accordingly,” Rodde said.
The loan allowed her to secure a building on SW Holden Street in the Westwood District of West Seattle. Five families moved with her to the new location, and now more than 20 children, aged one year to six years old, receive their care there. Since opening, she has hired four employees and business has never been better.
She has become more involved with her community, participating in preschool fairs and creating public service announcements advocating for children’s safety. Her goal is to eventually become a part-time director to take a more active role in community service and volunteering.
And after 33 years in the childcare industry, Rodde is ready for a different change of pace, but she said she will not forget the amount of hard work it took to get to the point where she can make that transition. “I have worked on Thanksgivings and till 10 p.m. every night,” she said. “As long as I keep prioritizing, staying on deadline, and maintaining structure, everything should work. You just have to do a good job of setting your mind right.”
For more information about Rodde and Blue Skies Montessori Schools Inc., visit her website at http://www.blueskiesmontessori.org or call (206) 938-9663. For more information about SBA's programs and resources, visit the website at www.sba.gov/wa or call (206) 553-7310.