Mawara Sohail is a pharmacist by training. After becoming a mom, she started looking for childcare for her children in Verona, who are now 11 and nine years old.
“I needed to go back to work and I wanted to send them somewhere where it’s not just changing diapers and eating meals,” she said. “On top of that, I wanted their days to be focused on education and (make sure) it’s well spent while they’re away from me.”
When looking for high-quality education-focused childcare programs, however, Sohail encountered extremely long waitlists.
“We never actually got a call or a spot in those programs,” she said.
Sohail identified a need in the Verona community for more education-focused programs, and began researching what quality preschools looked like across the nation. She discovered The Goddard School, which appeared as the number one childcare franchise with over 600 schools in the United States.
Despite holding no background in childcare, Sohail and her husband Salman Ahmad opened the first Goddard School in Dane County in April 2016, which serves over 180 children between the ages six weeks and six years through a play-based learning approach, according to a news release.
Upon opening the school, Sohail said she participated in training, took courses and earned credentials to understand what the childcare business is about.
And Sohail’s training proved successful – this past February, The Goddard School of Verona earned accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which acts as a mark of distinction in early childhood education, the release states.
Precious Woodley is one of two directors at The Goddard School and managed the accreditation process through NAEYC, which she said began in March 2022.
“Understanding that we’re already a part of the number one franchise in regards to quality education for preschoolers, we wanted to know what was the next step for us,” she said. “What that looked like for us was accreditation.”
To earn accreditation through NAEYC, Woodley said Goddard completed a rigorous self-study to ensure the school holds a quality standard. This involved talking to stakeholders, such as families, teachers and community members.
The next step was a quality improvement process, Woodley said, where the school created portfolios for each classroom, as well as the program overall. NAEYC accreditation is awarded for aligning with 10 program standards, such as relationship, curriculum, teaching, staff competency, along with leadership and development.
“We made sure to put in evidence to support how we were upholding those standards right here in our center,” she said.
After the creation of portfolios, an on-site visit with a national accreditor took place. The process overall can take anywhere from six months to over two years, Woodley said.
In Verona, The Goddard School fulfilled the process within a year, scoring a 92% out of 100% for the on-site visit and portfolios. Woodley said within the next five years, the school will work on the missing 8%.
“NAEYC is one of the most prestigious accreditations, and it means that we are going to continue to provide quality care to our families, as well as our children, and maintain a sense of security for the parents in the community that they are sending their children to a NAEYC accredited program, which means that it’s beyond the minimum standards,” Sohail said.
Woodley said that Goddard staff understands that in the childcare field, a lot of “lip service” happens.
“We are definitely a school of action,” she said. “We wanna make sure that when it comes to NAEYC accreditation, that families and other stakeholders understand that we have to have qualified teachers. Our retention rate for teaching staff is at 90%, which is huge in the child development field, as well as the world overall understanding that everyone is in a staffing shortage.”
While the Goddard of School of Verona must meet required quality standards, Sohail said they also understand the needs of the local community, designing curriculum to accommodate those demands and holding fundraisers to support the community on a larger scale.
Staff that feels like ‘family’
Verona residents James and Ema Roloff have two daughters, with their oldest enrolling in The Goddard’s School first infant class upon opening in 2016. According to James, their experience with the school has been “overwhelmingly positive,” developing great relationships with the owners and teaching staff over the years.
“The teachers care about learning outcomes, not just babysitting the kids during the day,” he said. “Our experience for our first daughter going into kindergarten – by the time she got there, she was more than proficient.”
Aya Yassin’s oldest daughter – who is currently five years old – is enrolled in her last year at Goddard. She began attending the school in July 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We really started at Goddard during a really challenging time for the world,” Yassin said. “But they were so wonderful – their COVID and safety protocols were great… We felt so safe to send my kid there during such a scary time.”
Even as COVID-19 protocols loosened up, Yassin said The Goddard School continued to provide great communication with parents.
“I really appreciate that as a parent,” she said. “And even as a parent, if my kid is out a lot because of illness, they will send emails and check-in… They really care about the students and their wellbeing… I feel like they are almost family.”
Yassin’s youngest daughter started school at Goddard in 2022. Although it was her first experience in a preschool setting due to concerns with the pandemic, Yassin said the transition was great.
“She didn’t even cry any days that she went, going from an in-home to (Goddard),” she said. “Kids get so uncomfortable in new places, but her teachers were so loving and so nurturing and just really helped her transition and make friends… I sometimes describe teachers there as a ‘big hug.’ My kids really look forward to seeing their teachers, and even though my oldest has transitioned from one class to the next, her teachers – when they see her in the halls – they’re always so happy to see her and always check in.”
Stacy Compty has spent her whole life in the Verona area – even graduating from Verona Area High School – and now has two daughters – ages two and four – that have been enrolled at Goddard since they were four months old.
Compty and her husband toured many different childcare centers, but said she fell in love with Goddard very quickly.
“I was really expecting Goddard to be far more expensive than the other schools, just based on how great the facility was, how buttoned-up they appeared to be, their curriculum,” she said. “They were right in line… Even to this day, they’ve kept our tuition extremely fair… Based on what you see when you’re there and what you get for your money, I think it’s a very favorable situation to all the parents.”
Like the Roloff and Yassin family, Compty has noticed just how much the teachers and staff love and care for their kids.
“Especially in the day and age where you have to worry about your childrens’ safety while they’re at school… We have a lot of things to worry about, and I just wholeheartedly don’t worry about it at Goddard,” she said. “I really feel like they love us, they love our children and they’re gonna take the best care possible for them.”
Compty said her family is done “adding kids to their brood,” but watching her second daughter go through Goddard makes her quite sad.
“Knowing as we’re leaving classrooms with our second daughter, I won’t get to see those teachers every day again and I won’t be interacting with them again – I call it the ‘Compty Train,’ the ‘Compty Train’ is pulling through for the last time – it’s really actually quite sad for me,” she said. “I’ve come to love these teachers myself, they’ve become friends of mine, trusted advisors and people that have been a part of our family for all these years.”
And for both owner Sohail and director Woodley, their favorite part of the job continues to be the kids.
“Many people think that administration is just all paperwork, and maybe at times that’s the foundation of it… However we all need a break from paperwork,” Woodley said. “Whether we hear a kid laughing or a kid crying, we’re moving and grooving to see if that student is okay. Their smiling faces definitely make or break our day.”
“Interacting with kids – that keeps me going,” Sohail said. “Every single day, when I wake up, this is what makes me come to work, that I’m gonna see all those faces.”