For more than 20 years, Susan Rind and her staff have cared for thousands of children at FishHawk Early Learning Center.
In January 2000, she and her sister-in-law, Beverly Gonzalez, opened the first center, located next to Bevis Elementary. Gonzalez was already an expert at managing early learning centers, having opened Walden Lake Early Learning Center almost 10 years earlier.
“We had to purchase three residential lots next to the elementary school and have them rezoned to commercial use,” recalled Rind.
Gonzalez, a former elementary school teacher, became the center’s director, eventually purchasing the center from Rind in 2005.
“It was the most fantastic experience teaching young children,” said Gonzalez. “We had a phenomenal staff and the support of wonderful parents and the community.”
When construction of FishHawk Creek Elementary was slated to begin, Rind bought the lot adjacent to it and built FishHawk Early Learning Center 2.
“Our center was at capacity before we even opened the doors,” said Rind.
Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK), free preschool for 4-year-old children, had yet to come into existence. As legislators began debating the merits of the program, Rind knew she would need another building to accommodate growing demand.
The property next to FishHawk Early Learning Center 2 was originally zoned for a church. Rind purchased the land and constructed a VPK center with five classrooms. Again, the new center was at capacity before it opened.
Rind credits her success to the centers’ staff. In a business where many owners face high turnover and staffing shortages, Rind said many of her teachers are longtime employees and friends. She also said her success couldn’t have been possible without the support and involvement of parents.
Everything has its time and season though, and for Rind and Gonzalez, the season of owning FishHawk Early Learning Centers has come to end. They sold the centers on December 17, with Rind selling to Walden Lake Early Learning Center Owner and retired Principal Mary Lou Hewett and Gonzalez selling to FishHawk Early Learning Center’s longtime director, Karri Hasty.
Rind feels she’s leaving her early learning centers in good hands and the new owners will maintain the same high standards parents have come to expect from the centers.
“Children have always been my life’s work and my goal at FishHawk Creek Early Learning Center is to continue to provide quality childcare and early learning programs so that children are prepared to start kindergarten,” said Hewett.
Because FishHawk Early Learning Center was built on a solid foundation, Hasty plans to continue to live up to Gonzalez’s high standards. “I have the same vested interest as Beverly of inspiring a love of learning in children,” she said.
While Hewett and Hasty continue the tradition of educating FishHawk’s youngsters, Rind and Gonzalez ride off into the sunset to enjoy retirement and move onto life’s next adventures. Rind plans to keep herself busy playing tennis and volunteer as a guardian ad litem. Gonzalez is enjoying walking, bike riding, reading and spending time with family.
For more information about FishHawk Early Learning Centers, visit www.fhelc.com or call 662-5978 for the location next to Bevis Elementary or 684-5506 for the location next to FishHawk Creek Elementary.