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WILSON — When Wee School got started, the child care company had just five kids. Over nearly three decades, the business has grown to 700 children and 125 employees between five locations.
Childcare Network recently acquired the business, but the new owners have promised the commitment to the people — employees and customers — won’t waver.
“In the coming months, we will invest in improvements to the Wee School buildings and facilities, classroom enhancements and technology upgrades, all aimed at enriching the educational experience for our children and families,” said CEO David Evans. “What we will not be changing is the smiling faces you see each day as you walk through the doors. All teachers, directors and school staff will remain in the schools. They will have new opportunities for education, training and professional development because we believe it is important to invest in their growth, too.”
Wee School child care centers are located in Wilson, Kenly, Selma, Benson and the Cleveland community outside Garner.
A SIMPLE START
Vernon Mason moved to Wilson when he was just an infant and throughout his childhood, his mother often took care of kids in their home.
“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her interactions with the kids while witnessing the kids’ growth and development firsthand,” Mason said of her mother, Nancy. “When I graduated college, we decided to open our first Wee School location.”
The mother-son duo took the five kids she was currently caring for and moved into a space with a capacity for 30 children. It didn’t take long for them to realize Vernon’s strength was managing the business side while his mom focused on the classroom environment.
“Over the years, we outgrew our first location that was a yellow house beside The SPOT. Over the years, we moved to another location behind Bill’s Barbecue and our capacity went from 30 to 100 to 125 children,” Vernon Mason said. “In 1999, the building was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd. We had 6 feet of water and everything was gone. We didn’t have insurance, so we had to start over from scratch.”
Mason didn’t let the setback keep him down, though. The storm hit on a Wednesday, everyone was closed on Thursday and Wee School stayed closed on Friday, but on Monday morning, the child care business was reopen on Tarboro Street in downtown.
“I am a fixer and I think one reason we’ve been successful is that we were determined to move forward,” he said. “I never got the ‘Why me?’ mindset. I never wasted time on pity. I put all my energy into what we had to do and finding somewhere safe for our children and staff.”
Wee School stayed in downtown for about a year while a new location was being built on Madison Drive.
“When I turned 40, I decided I wanted to expand and do a little more,” Mason said. “In the next few years, I bought four locations in Johnston County. It is amazing how we went from the five kids my mom was caring for to 700 children and 125 employees when the new owners took over.”
Nancy Mason retired about 15 years ago while Vernon Mason has taken on a public speaking and professional development role for other child care companies.
“This business has changed so much over the last 28 ½ years, so it has taken a lot to adjust, grow and learn to make it better,” he said. “We always tried to keep the kids and the staff members first. We always kept their best interests at heart whenever we made decisions and because of that, we’ve had a lot of loyalty from the staff and our parents.”
For that reason, when Vernon Mason started thinking about retiring, he wanted to find a company that would have that same mindset.
“My goal was to stay 30 years, but the biggest priority in my mind was how to protect the people,” he said. “I didn’t want to turn it over to someone I couldn’t trust or someone who would take our employees back in terms of benefits. I wanted someone stronger than Wee School who would take it forward and I knew that would have to be a larger, national company.
“I contacted Childcare Network and told them what I was thinking. I told them I’d like to stay 30 years, but within 24 hours, they gave me an answer and said they wanted to take over the company but wanted to do it now. It was the hardest decision of my life. I prayed about it, cried about it and slept on it, but decided it was the best plan for everyone.”
Vernon Mason retired at the end of June. He said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his husband, Andy Summerlin, and serving as an advocate for the child care industry.
With the addition of Wee School, Childcare Network will operate 265 locations across 11 states — including 75 in North Carolina — and cares for more than 35,000 children every day.
“At Child Development Schools, it is our fundamental mission to provide a great start in life for every child we serve,” Evans said. “Vernon shares our values and commitment to children, families and communities, and we are all truly inspired by Vernon’s story and passion. We are excited about this acquisition and proud that Child Development Schools will carry on Vernon’s legacy.”
Visit www.childcarenetwork.com/ for more information.