Profile of Sandra Bosnar-Dale, Co-founder, and Isabel Kunicki, Co-founder, The Clover School
Sandra Bosnar-Dale, Co-founder (since 1996)
Isabel Kunicki, Co-founder (since 1996)
Sandra Bosnar-Dale and Isabelle Kunicki founded The Clover School in 1996 with just eight students in a church basement. The idea began when Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki were just out of university and training to be Montessori teachers. “We had both done some work in traditional classrooms and were dissatisfied with what was going on in the public school system,” says Kunicki. “When we discovered the Montessori path, we both fell in love with this beautiful alternative method of education.”
With no formal business training, Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki were simply two idealistic, passionate young educators following a vision. “We had about $2000 in student loan money left between us, and we thought that should be enough to do it.”
They found a space in the basement of a church in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood, and they convinced the church to rent them the space for free for the first few months. “We were very resourceful,” says Bosnar-Dale. “We spent our weekends finding desks and chairs at garage sales and repainting them. In the end, we pulled it all together and the classroom was beautiful.” Forest Hill Montessori School, as Clover was originally called, opened with eight families—all boys between the ages of three and six.
Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki wore all the hats in those early days. “I think we worked 20 hours a day,” says Kunicki. As the students grew up and out of the primary program, their parents began asking for an elementary program. “We had so many families who were with us for three years and said they couldn’t imagine sending their children somewhere else for Grade 1,” says Kunicki.
By 2019, the school had grown beyond Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki’s expectations. No longer the typical church-basement Montessori anymore, Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki changed the school’s name to ‘The Clover School.’ “There are so many reasons that ‘clover’ was the right word and the right symbol. Just the fact that love is at the centre of the word was enough, but then there are the four, intersecting heart-shaped leaves. Each one represents one of the pillars—mind, heart, health, and soul—that guides our curriculum.”
Today, Bosnar-Dale and Kunicki oversee head of schools Erika Lacey and the three vice-principals who manage each campus. There is a very collaborative feel among the administration team. “Our job is to mentor and lead the vice-principals while always taking their feedback into account, because they’re the ones on the front lines with students and families,” says Kunicki.
Though the school has grown since 1996, its founding values are still just as strong. “We’ve always believed that schools should be true communities that bind students, families, and teachers together,” says Bosnar-Dale. “Raising children is hard in this fast-changing world, especially living in a big city. Our goal from the start was to create trusting relationships with families because everybody benefits from that, especially children.”
While their vision for the school has evolved over time, the fundamentals remain. “We’ve developed a unique approach to delivering the Montessori philosophy of education that encourages everyone in our school community to lead with their hearts,” says Kunicki. Bosnar-Dale’s two children were able to attend Clover for a brief time, while Kunicki’s children were not the right age for the programs available at the time. “Much of what Clover has become has been inspired by our desire to create the school that we wish had been around for our children when they were younger.”
“At Clover, we offer children freedom within limits and choice with responsibility, which are really character-building tools that all kids need,” says Bosnar-Dale. “This promotes a healthy sense of confidence and belief in themselves, but also personal accountability and the ability to function within a community.”