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East County Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 9 months ago

Future Forward

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With its first students having just graduated high school, the Primrose School is expanding to a second location. Owners Brad and Sharon Frank discuss what they’ve learned along the way.
by: Shellie Terry Contributor

In 2005, Shelley Lafoe was growing her career at Wells Fargo Advisors in quiet Lakewood Ranch. She and her husband, Charles, were also growing their family, with 4-year-old daughter Caroline.

Like many young, busy moms, Lafoe was juggling career and family and strategizing more convenient solutions. That’s when she met another mom who was growing a new career of her own. Sharon Frank, along with her husband, Brad, had relocated from South Tampa to Lakewood Ranch to open a new preschool geared toward families just like the Lafoes.

The new preschool, Primrose School, was a mile from Shelley Lafoe’s office, and she signed Caroline right up.

“I wanted to work,” she says. “So I said: ‘What is the best option I have? I want a career, but I also want my kids in a warm, loving environment.’”

The Franks discovered Primrose Schools when Brad was working in real estate and helped the company find a location on Town Center Parkway. However, the new school didn’t have a franchise owner yet.

The Franks decided it was the ideal opportunity for them to manage their careers while achieving more balance for their 4-year-old son, Alec.

“By the time Sharon was expecting our second child, we were at a point where the travel was getting extensive,” Brad Frank says. “And the whole corporate grind was getting time-consuming as well.”

Sharon toured a Primrose in Tampa and fell in love with the concept and its focus on character development. “We wanted our children to have the same early-childhood experience,” she says. “And this gave us the opportunity to not only give our children that experience but also for us to be involved in their preschool experience and have some control over what they would experience.”

That year, Primrose School’s Lakewood Ranch location opened to full capacity. “On day one, we had 75 kids — there was a lot of crying that day,” Sharon says with a chuckle.

Those children included a handful who would become the first graduating kindergarten class at Primrose.

Alec Frank and Caroline Lafoe have maintained a strong friendship from preschool at Primrose through high school graduation.

Fast-forward to summer 2019, and those kids, who include Caroline Lafoe and Alec Frank, graduated high school.

Although Caroline went to The Out-of-Door Academy and Alec went to Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, they stayed connected over the years. “Alec Frank and I are really good friends,” Caroline says. “We all went to prom together.”

Since Caroline and Alec’s days there, Primrose’s Lakewood Ranch location has kept a steady pace and has filled to capacity year after year. This fall, the Franks will open a second location on Rangeland Parkway, just north of State Road 70.

The Franks attribute Primrose’s success to the company’s focus on character development and purposeful play geared toward discovery and learning.

From the earliest ages, play and learning are centered on language, social studies, math, science, creative arts and physical and social development, which are all aligned by age. When the Franks opened their school, it was one of 150 schools in the country. Today, there are more than 400 Primrose locations.

Along with Primrose’s guidance and their dedicated team of employees, the Franks also say their earlier careers helped them run a tight, focused ship.

“We both came from a corporate background,” Sharon Frank says. “I was pretty groomed in following procedures, and we took our backgrounds and really emulated that with processes and procedures in place. Even to this day, we run a very process-oriented company.”

Nine years after Caroline Lafoe left Primrose, her brother, Dax, would attend and had the same teacher as his sister. In fact, that teacher and several other staff members still work at Primrose.

“It’s impressive that they’ve had that type of consistency,” Shelley Lafoe says. “For any business, really.”

Brad Frank describes the staff as a vital part of the school. “It doesn’t matter a hill of beans unless you have great teachers who are compassionate and motivated to make a difference,” he says.

The second Lakewood Ranch Primrose School can accommodate 212 children from infancy to kindergarten. It will also provide after-school and summer programs, similar to the original location. It will be a larger facility with conference rooms and a teacher break room, as well as a mini water park in what Brad Frank calls “more of an urban design.” Its strategic location is targeted to the growing residential area and a younger demographic.

“The new school is going to be much larger than the current school,” he says. “We’ve gone through many rebrands and reinvesting in the school. We’ve always been big on change and keeping up with the times.”

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