We opened our doors at 104 Northwest Drive on September 1, 2006 and will close our doors at that location on December 23rd.
I opened Sunrise because I wanted to create a preschool experience that I couldn’t find for my son, John. I wanted to create a place where my teachers were treated like professionals, with better pay and benefits, three weeks of paid holiday time so they didn’t burn out, free training, who looked forward to coming to work, who knew they were appreciated and valued. I wanted more for my family, too. I had a bold vision, one that entailed many locations of happy staff and families, all of us experiencing the best possible version of what a preschool experience SHOULD be. You can tell when you walk into a preschool if it’s a happy one just by observing the teachers with their class, which is why our classrooms all have observation windows. Seeing is believing.
So what happened? Sunrise West was already struggling to stay afloat before Covid. It was not in the best of locations. Sunrise Montessori is a high quality business, and yet the surroundings there no longer reflected that. It doesn’t reside near any neighborhoods like many are today. Dell headquarters shut down, wiping out a third of our enrollment since parents were dropping off on their way to work and driving so far from home was no longer convenient. As the year went by, our Limmer Loop location, Sunrise East, came back strong and is today almost full. Yet our original location never recovered. In fact, it has been losing enrollment. I kept on more teachers and administration than I needed to, trying to keep the school as stable as possible, keep classrooms from being dark, knowing those decisions would hurt my savings. Yet our high quality teachers were worried we were going to close, despite my assurances that I could get us through until things recovered, and who could blame them? Seeing a classroom shut down this past month and a few fellow teachers leave is a scary thing, so others began to find jobs elsewhere. And after the 5th and 6th ones put in notice the same day, I knew that I had to make the decision to close my first location to save the rest. After all, you can’t have a school without teachers.
As any business owner will tell you, starting and running a business is very much like having a child. You give all of yourself to it. I worked all day plus weekends those first couple years, surviving for the most part on my husband’s teaching income, trying to get it off the ground, under constant fear of not getting enough enrollment to keep going. Knowing if I failed, my family would fall into financial ruin and my team would lose their jobs. I sacrificed time and again to improve it, plowing all of our profit back in, to make it what our families and my team needed and wanted. And I happily, proudly, gave that, despite the hardships. Despite Covid. Despite living on dwindling savings since February. Despite the daily fear and worry these past nine god awful months. Despite fighting off an ulcer and depression and weight gain and panic attacks and even my hair falling out. As life often teaches us, you can do everything right and try your best and sometimes it heartbreakingly isn’t enough. To keep going, I was risking the entire business. Our first location was a sinking ship while the second location was trying to keep us all afloat.
Gratefully, our Limmer Loop location is doing well. It is about to open a new wing for a total of 15 classrooms. It will take time to make a profit again, but at least I can see that as a probability. And these new classrooms also are allowing me to keep some of my team from lay offs.
I am a fighter and am not giving up. I still plan to open more Sunrise Montessori schools in the future, we’ll just have to travel a longer road to get there. Thankfully, Austin is the strongest economy in the nation and you may have heard that companies keep moving here because of it. I know of businesses who have closed permanently. I’m sure you do, too. I am incredibly thankful that I only have to close one location. Many cannot say the same.
So I dedicate this blog to my baby, my first location, where entrepreneurial dreams were born and nourished. Thank you, 104 and 106 Northwest Drive, for providing me what I needed to create Sunrise Montessori and giving all of the hundreds of families and team members over these past 14 years a place to learn and work, allowing us the opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves. I am mourning you already, but because of you in the beginning and letting you go today, we’re going to be able to keep going. Thank you. You will never be far from my heart.