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You Need to Meet: The Founders of The Clover School

Empowering future generations with innovative, child-centered education and a fearless commitment to change.

Isabelle Kunicki and Sandra Bosnar-Dale are the visionary Founders behind The Clover School. With a shared passion for alternative education and a relentless commitment to nurturing every child’s potential, they have transformed the educational landscape. Their innovative approach, rooted in Montessori principles, focuses on creative exploration, project-based learning, and hands-on experiences. Together, they have built a thriving community where children are seen, heard, and empowered to become their best selves. Through their resilience and creativity, Isabelle and Sandra continue to lead The Clover School, shaping the future of education.

What inspired both of you to found The Clover School and embrace the Montessori method in your educational approach?

Our origin story goes back almost thirty years. We met on our first day of classes at The Foundation for Montessori Education and quickly became friends, bonding over our shared sense of humour, entrepreneurial mindset, and passion for alternative education.

The idea to start The Clover School was sparked over lunch one day. We found ourselves deep in conversation about the kind of school we would each want to teach in. We imagined a perfect learning environment — a place that challenged norms, where every child and family belonged, and each child was free to learn, explore, and develop at their own pace. A school that prioritized creativity, innovation, and critical thinking over rote learning and conformity. Neither of us had seen a school that encompassed all these values, though we had seen many that did not. So, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s create our own school!” Here we are thirty years later. The rest is history! Just kidding… there have been thousands of ups and downs and hard lessons learned along the way, but that is how it all began. With an idea, a lot of blind faith, naïveté, and a commitment to taking action, we put one foot in front of the other to make our dream a reality.

Can you share what each of you were doing before deciding to start your own school?

We were recent university graduates (and basically broke) when we decided to pursue Montessori education and start our own school. Once the idea took hold, we became unstoppable. We scraped together the almost $2,000 of leftover OSAP money we had between us and worked tirelessly to secure a location: a small church basement in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood. We were fortunate to convince the board members to allow us to use and decorate the space rent-free for several months. During this time, we spent evenings and weekends painting, thrifting, refinishing used furniture, creating signs and learning materials, canvassing the Neighbourhood with homemade flyers, and holding open houses. All this while spending our days in full-time teacher’s college.

It was a hectic time, but somehow we managed to convince eight families to take a chance on us and enrol their children in our school! Forest Hill Montessori School officially opened its doors in September 1996. We played the roles of teachers, custodians, groundskeepers, bookkeepers, administrators, caterers, and more. By the end of that first year, word spread through the community, and our school was full. We expanded the following year, and though our growth has not been entirely linear, our schools have morphed, expanded, and evolved into what they are today.

As entrepreneurs in the education sector, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned? How has this shaped the way you lead the school?

The biggest lesson we’ve learned as entrepreneurs in the education sector is the importance of resilience and adaptability. Adapting to meet the changing needs of children and the families we serve over the past three decades has been critical to our success. The past thirty years have brought enormous changes to the way we live our lives and raise our children. Montessori, though its approach is universal and timeless, has never been more relevant than it is today. However, we have had to remain progressive, flexible, creative, and adaptable within our core pedagogy to meet the evolving needs of today’s kids.

We have also learned a lot from our involvement in some great entrepreneurial communities and have been lucky enough to have some phenomenal mentors. The qualities that a successful entrepreneur must have are also the qualities we want to instill in the students who come to The Clover School: innovative thinking, problem-solving, confidence, curiosity, and a commitment to doing the next right thing and taking the next step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase. Montessori education is known for inspiring and instilling these very values in children, and many successful entrepreneurs have attributed their success to their Montessori roots.

This is something we are very proud of and place great importance on at Clover, not just with our students but also with our team. We encourage them to view obstacles as opportunities for innovative solutions, which has been fundamental in leading The Clover School’s evolution.

What are some unique challenges you face as women leading an educational institution? Are there specific hurdles you’ve successfully navigated?

Leading a growing business as women presents unique challenges, particularly in the realm of financing and construction. Despite being in an industry with many women, we’ve faced significant hurdles with banks and investors, who often treat women differently. Consequently, we’ve bootstrapped our entire business growth. We’ve encountered skepticism and underestimation, with many doubting our capabilities. Over the years, we’ve developed thick skin and resilience. What once offended us now fuels our determination to prove doubters wrong.

Throughout your journey as co-founders, what important self-discoveries have you made about your leadership styles and personal growth?

It’s been said that entrepreneurship and parenting are two of the most powerful vehicles for personal growth. Nothing stretches you to the limits of your capabilities more than the labour of love that these two all-encompassing and life-changing paths put you on. To be good at what you do and serve to the best of your ability, you must be willing to grow, evolve, and constantly shed old versions of yourself to make way for the new.

Our journey as partners and co-founders has been a gift. We’ve learned that a business is a reflection of its founders—the more we remain open to growth and learning new ways of doing things, the more our business thrives. We’ve discovered that much of what makes a business partnership thrive is similar to what makes a marriage thrive. You have to be best friends, truly enjoy working together, and always put the “we” before the “me.” There’s no room for ego in a successful partnership.

We’ve also learned to prioritize self-care, physical health, spiritual health, and mental health, understanding that a healthy business requires healthy leaders. Balancing entrepreneurship and parenting has been incredibly challenging and rewarding, as our children have witnessed our resilience and humour in navigating stress, providing them with invaluable life lessons.

Our partnership’s strength lies in our mutual support and understanding, always putting family first and giving each other the grace to handle personal challenges. This flexible collaboration has been crucial to our success and is a privilege we deeply cherish.

What aspects of your work at The Clover School do you find most fulfilling, and why?

What we find most fulfilling about our work at The Clover School is hearing success stories and receiving feedback from parents about the positive impact our school has on their children’s lives. Knowing that we contribute to an environment where children blossom and thrive is what we’re here to do. These stories remind us of the profound difference we’re making, and it’s incredibly fulfilling to be part of such a transformative journey.

We also find it incredibly rewarding to witness the growth and development of our incredible team. Building a team that we trust implicitly with our vision has been immensely rewarding. Watching teachers evolve into vice principals and principals, realizing their potential and achieving their dreams, is truly gratifying. Our rock star team handles everything with competence and dedication.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to innovate and lead in the educational field?

Education has the power to transform the world. The traditional education system is outdated and no longer meets the needs of today’s young people. The world has changed significantly, yet we’re stuck in an old paradigm. We need more movers and shakers—creative and innovative thinkers with the courage to challenge and transform the current system. Aspiring leaders in education should focus on developing approaches that meet the needs of 21st-century children, helping them become their best selves. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and push boundaries. The world needs passionate and brave people to lead this change!

It’s essential for educators to see each child as an individual, understand what makes them tick, and bring out the best in them. The system often fails to meet every child’s needs. At The Clover School, every child feels seen and heard, which sets us apart. Our advice is to truly nurture each student, ensuring they feel valued and supported. By doing so, you can lead meaningful change and innovation in education.

What might surprise people to learn about each of your journeys or about the school?

What might surprise people about our journeys and The Clover School is the leap of faith it required and the fact that we started with no money and zero business background. Additionally, neither of us has ever really worked for anyone else, so we have had to learn everything as we go. You don’t need to see the entire staircase to create something that we’re really proud of.

If you had an extra hour in your day, how would each of you choose to spend it?

Sandra: “I would spend it in nature with my family. Being outdoors is what I enjoy most, especially after long hours on Zoom calls. There’s something incredibly rejuvenating about connecting with nature, and sharing that time with my children and husband makes it even more special.”

Isabelle: “At this stage of my career, I love having more time to spend with my partner, Uwe, and our blended family of grown children and their partners. Hanging out with our dogs, cooking, going for long walks, and spending lots of time at our cottage are my favourite activities. After many years as a super busy single mom running a business and raising two young daughters, I never really had time to pursue any hobbies of my own. I keep saying that I would like to take an art class—pottery or painting. Now that I have more time, there’s no excuse.”

Looking ahead, what excites you most about the future of education and The Clover School’s role in it?

We are most excited about the transformative potential of education and The Clover School’s pioneering role in this evolution. The pandemic highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of traditional education, prompting us to rethink and innovate. The Clover School’s emphasis on Montessori principles like creative exploration, project-based learning, and hands-on experiences aligns perfectly with this shift. We are thrilled to be at the forefront of meeting the holistic needs of children and preparing them for a dynamic future. The integration of these approaches into mainstream education is promising, and we are dedicated to continuing this momentum, ensuring that every child thrives in our rapidly changing world.