Eye on the Entrepreneur

Eye on the Entrepreneur – Silver anniversary for Unseld’s School

Special to The Daily Record

Connie Martin grew up in Kentucky and graduated from the University of Louisville and began work as an elementary school teacher.

While at the University of Louisville, Connie met and fell in love with a young basketball star, named Wes Unseld. They married and his professional basketball career took him to Baltimore where he played for the NBA’s Bullets. When their first daughter, Kimberly, was born, Connie decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

I looked at her and wondered, what would I want as a parent for her? she remembers.

As Kimberly approached kindergarten age, Connie realized that a half-day kindergarten would not be the most conducive climate for learning. As she thought about what a climate conducive for learning entailed, Connie began to think how she might teach her daughter herself. She turned to her mother for advice.

I told her, ‘Mom, I’m in a crisis. Wes is playing basketball and traveling, and I want to work, but have Kimberly at the center of my life,’ she says of the conversation.

The schools that were available to Kimberly were not appealing to Connie. When she expressed her concerns to Wes, he thought about it, and then said, If you don’t like it, start one of your own.

Connie again turned to her mother, who though encouraging, asked her, Now, young lady, what do you know about business?

Learning

What did she know about running a business? Well, she could learn. She began by writing down her vision and goals. She approached her husband, Wes, and told him what was on her mind.

At first, I had to laugh, says Wes. Connie was not a morning person! I said to her, ‘Now let me get this straight. You’re going to start a school and get up at 5 a.m. every morning.’

But Wes sensed her intensity and knew this was something she had to do.

Because of Wes’ basketball career, I’d had a chance to do a lot of traveling with him, Connie says. We’d been to South Africa where we had met Nelson Mandela. We also had the opportunity to travel to such far away places as China and Israel, where I got a chance to talk to educators and learn about what needed to be done to start a school.

The dream of a school became a labor of love, as Connie worked 12 to 15 hours every day. She did hours of research, asking herself, What can I pull from other systems? She talked to many different people about what impacted them.

Once the dream had crystallized, Connie went to Wes and told him, If I’m going to do this, you have to finance it.

Wes agreed unhesitatingly.

Mom helped me make the decision to start the school in the city, says Connie, and I have never regretted it.

Location search

Wes and Connie and her parents began searching the west side of Baltimore City for the best location. They finally settled on the quarters of a nursing school on South Hilton Street, the Tuskegee School of Nursing.

Once they had the building, Connie and Wes were confronted with all the building regulations, both city and state, that were required to convert a nursing school into a primary school.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, Connie explains, laughing. Maybe that’s why we pushed ahead and got it done.

Now they had a school, and Connie had one pupil, her son Wes.

Sometimes, when an entrepreneur has a dream and charges ahead with it, there can be disillusionment. Such was the case for Connie Unseld.

I’d never really thought about marketing, she recalls. I guess I assumed that we’d have twenty or thirty kids right away. Well, it didn’t happen. That’s when I learned that a business has to grow slowly.

However, word-of-mouth, the best advertising there is, began having its effect, and soon after opening, they had several students. There were five. And then ten, and soon, more and more parents were contacting Unseld’s School to learn how they could enroll their children.

That was a quarter century ago. On Feb. 28, Unseld’s School celebrates its silver anniversary. Unseld’s School has developed a great reputation for developing young children into solid academic achievers.

Connie Unseld has the climate that she feels is conducive to learning. This is a climate that emphasizes learning critical thinking skills and how to study. The children learn the freedom of discipline and the confidence of a positive self-image. When some of the kids are confronted by their peers who tease them for being smart, they reply, No, I have a purpose!

Connie Unseld has brought together a dedicated staff of teachers who have bought into the concept that they are there because they truly want to teach.

Kimberly, her daughter and one of her first students, now teaches at the school, and her father, now 85, who came out of retirement 25 years ago, is the principal. Graduates of Unseld’s School, upon leaving the eighth grade, go on to such institutions as the School for the Arts, private schools and magnet schools.

Some of the best schools in Baltimore come here to recruit our students, Connie says proudly.

When she first started Unseld’s School, Connie Unseld thought about it as a short-term project. Now, 25 years later, she laughs.

While she’s not tired of teaching, she would like to be able to devote more time toward being a builder. She envisions eventually establishing an affiliation with a local college for teacher training. She feels that a school like hers could get student teachers excited about teaching.

Teaching is like a ministry, Connie explains. My joy is helping these kids become good students and eventually good citizens who will build good communities.

An entrepreneur is defined as someone who takes a risk with the hope of a reward. For some, the reward is money. For Connie Unseld, the reward is lives positively touched.

Neil R. G. Young, CLU, ChFC, is president of Young & Company, a financial planning firm in Lutherville. If you have any comments or questions, you can send him an e-mail at neil@yco.com or call at 410- 494-7766. The Web site is http://www.yco.com.

Copyright 2004 Dolan Media Newswires

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