It has been my unique joy to be able to watch my children grow up alongside a business that my husband and I started. When we opened the first KLA Schools we were barely old enough to rent a car, let alone begin a business venture when neither of us had ever run our own business. Our first year, I learned a lot as I went – I received a crash course in hiring teachers and convincing parents to sign up for our first semester. It was a lot of work, but I knew that the first school was only the beginning of something greater. My biggest personal accomplishment has been going from knowing very little about education to considering myself an expert and being able to operate a growing national business with my family, our partner and the community by my side.
Cultivating a Love for Teaching
I came to the United States from Argentina with my family at the age of 12. Even though I loved working with children, I went to college for a degree in International business and marketing to gain skills that I knew would prepare me for success in a corporate environment. Even after I graduated and began working in the corporate world in Miami, I found ways to stay involved with children through play groups and meetups.
The desire to work with children on a regular basis became so overwhelming that I took a leap of faith and accepted a job teaching at a local preschool. The school used the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy, a teaching strategy that is not well-known in the United States but well respected around the world. It was also at this time that I went back to school for a degree in early childhood education. After receiving my degree, I made it my mission to learn everything I could about Reggio Emilia and the early childhood education industry, which eventually led to the opening of my own school. My research took me to national conferences that focused on best practices for the teaching approach.
Another valuable aspect of our research process was visiting Europe to witness Reggio Emilia schools firsthand in the country where it was first developed. It was an eye-opening experience that helped me realize that to be successful we needed to set the standard for early childhood education in the United States I brought back with me all the things that I loved during my research – the look and feel of the schools, and the way the teachers and students interacted together to incorporate into the first KLA Schools location.
Approaching Entrepreneurship with Confidence and Support
My decision to get into early childhood education was not an easy one but it was the right one. For anyone considering opening a business, staying true to the vision and refusing to sacrifice your values are key to creating a strong business model. My husband Roberto and I researched the feasibility of creating an educational franchise. As first-time entrepreneurs, we knew that we had to set ourselves up for success and put the right plans in place to minimize the risk of opening a new business. Running a business requires a diverse set of skills and the ability to play many roles within the company. I knew my strength lie in the implementation of Reggio Emilia and training teachers, while Roberto had a knack for business development and strategy.
Once we were ready to move forward, we were lucky to have the support of our partner who is a very close friend of my family who were also our initial investors. Their confidence in our vision was essential to our success. We will be forever grateful for the confidence they deposited on us. In addition, having a strong internal team working for you and support from the community has been key to expansion into new communities across the United States. From early on, we supplemented our strengths with a team of people who are passionate about our company’s mission – and many of them are still with us today. In addition, KLA Schools gained the support of local families through outreach and making our students visible in the community. I think it is very important to give children a voice in their community. To achieve that, we regularly organize public art events for students to display their artwork. The public is always very receptive to their work and it has helped to strengthen the ties that our schools have in the future of the community.
Building Success around the Community
I have learned many lessons since opening our first school that have served to make me a better leader and our schools stronger. The biggest challenge thus far has been maintaining a healthy work-life balance. My husband and my three children come to work with me every morning so it can be hard to disassociate myself from my work when I’m home. I not only want my children, but every child who walks through our doors to be prepared for a healthy and successful future. It is my hope that my children and their children and so on will be able to benefit from the hard work we have done.
At the end of the day, I know that I am a mother figure to more than 1,200 children and a mentor to our staff and teachers for several hours out of every day – and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I consider myself lucky to be able to go to work with my husband and our two children every day and do something that I can truly say is my passion. It continues to be a blessing that I get to share what I do for a living with my children and will hopefully inspire them to follow their dreams.
Enterprising Women is a partner in the new Million Women Mentors (MWM) initiative.
The initiative supports the engagement of one million science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) mentors — women and men — to increase the interest and confidence of young women to pursue and succeed in STEM degrees and careers.