In this episode of Montessori Talks, we discuss the inspiring story of Najee and Sesealy Owens, the new owners of Decatur Montessori School in Atlanta. They share their experience transitioning from other work to embracing the Montessori world and the challenges they faced during the pandemic.
by Letty Rising
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This article is a summary of the discussion between Letty, Najee and Sesealy Owens about their journey to school ownership. We discuss why they wanted to become owners, the challenges they faced, and how they want to inspire other Black entrepreneurs.
Beginning of a Montessori Journey
Najee and Sesealy’s interest in education started when they were looking for childcare for their daughter. During their search, they stumbled upon the Montessori philosophy, which emphasizes child-centered learning. Although they couldn’t afford a Montessori school back then, they eventually had the opportunity to become owners of one, marking the beginning of their Montessori journey.
Building Trust and Navigating Challenges
With their background in real estate investing, sales, and marketing, Najee and Sesealy were well-equipped to manage a thriving Montessori school. Their priority was to listen to the needs of the teachers and the staff, as they believe that fulfilling their needs would translate into better care for the students.
Decatur Montessori School has been a strong pillar in the Atlanta community for 30 years. When the couple took over the school during the pandemic, they faced numerous challenges, including a drop in enrollment, COVID cases among students and parents, and multiple school closures. However, with dedication and a focus on the teachers’ needs, they managed to navigate these difficulties and increase enrollment.
Supporting Teachers and Staff
Interestingly, the couple managed to retain all the teachers at Decatur Montessori School during the transition. This was possible because of the trust they built with the teachers and their commitment to listening to their needs. The teachers, some of whom have been with the school for over 18 years, have seen multiple ownership changes and remain dedicated to the school and the students.
Prioritizing Teacher Well-being
At this Montessori school, the sense of family amongst the staff is remarkable, and the dedication of the teachers is unparalleled. This is partly due to the school’s unique approach to prioritizing the needs of the teachers. While many institutions cater to parents’ needs, which can sometimes result in overworked staff, this school ensures that teachers are well taken care of. They operate year-round, but teachers are encouraged to take time off when needed, and the school offers several breaks throughout the year, including spring break, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.
The school also strongly supports ongoing professional development for its teachers, providing them with the opportunity to pursue any training they desire. A diverse mix of international teachers from countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mexico further contributes to the familial atmosphere. Small gestures, like surprise lunches, also help show appreciation for the staff.
Expanding the Montessori Reach
With a current enrollment of 65 students and a capacity for 90, the school has grown significantly in the past year and a half. They serve children aged six weeks to six years old, offering one infant classroom, two toddler classrooms, and two primary classrooms. The owners would love to expand into elementary education and build more Montessori schools eventually.
As a Black couple owning a Montessori school, the owners hope to inspire other Black educators and entrepreneurs to explore alternative educational methods like Montessori. Increasing awareness of Montessori education and its benefits could lead to more people of color entering the field. The couple’s commitment to Montessori education is evident in their own professional development, as one owner is soon to receive their Montessori diploma.
Future Plans and Inspiring Others
Najee and Sesealy are enthusiastic about making Montessori education more widespread and accessible. They envision a future where Montessori education becomes the norm in the public school system, reaching more students and teachers. Their collaborative approach and dedication to promoting Montessori values make them role models for those interested in starting their own schools or micro-school networks.
In a recent podcast interview, the couple shared their experience and future plans for their school. With Najee currently pursuing Montessori training, the couple is passionate about promoting Montessori education and expanding its reach, particularly in the African American community. Najee believes that the traditional education system, which often focuses on memorization, is less effective in fostering genuine learning. Montessori education, on the other hand, emphasizes student-driven exploration and respect for others, which can be transformative for all communities.
Immediate and Long-term Goals
The Owens’ immediate goals for their Montessori school include reaching full capacity in their classrooms, as more students can create a better learning environment. They are also open to acquiring nearby buildings for potential lower elementary and middle school expansion. In the long run, they hope to acquire more Montessori schools, not only to spread the Montessori method but also to provide support for existing school owners who may be looking to transition.
Conclusion: A Testament to Passion and Commitment
Najee and Sesealy Owens’ inspiring journey as new Montessori school owners in Atlanta is a testament to the importance of listening to and supporting the needs of teachers and staff in order to provide quality education for children. Their story serves as an inspiration for teachers and aspiring school owners, demonstrating that with passion and commitment, great things can be achieved in Montessori education.
Najee Owens, experienced in real estate investment and financial services, holds a Master’s Degree in the Science of Real Estate and a Real Estate license. Driven by a passion for education and influenced by his mother’s 30-year career in early childcare, Najee became intrigued by the Montessori Method and its child-centric principles. In 2020, he shifted his focus to the education industry, seizing an opportunity to acquire a Montessori school. Today, alongside his wife Sesealy, Najee owns and operates Decatur Montessori School while continuing to invest in real estate.
Sesealy Owens, Owner & Co-CEO of Decatur Montessori School, an AMI-certified school for children aged 6 weeks to 6+ years, oversees operations, client satisfaction, business growth, and financial planning. With a BA in Marketing from Talladega College and over eight years of sales and marketing experience, Sesealy has always been passionate about education. Inspired by her family’s background in the field, she and her husband Najee seized the opportunity to own the Montessori School in metro Atlanta, becoming the first Black owners in 30 years. Balancing her full-time tech job, Sesealy worked tirelessly to purchase the business and now combines her love for education with her business skills for a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
You can learn more about their school at https://www.decaturmontessori.com
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. Letty currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.