|Q&A with Rhonda Paver, Founder Stepping Stone Schools
Author: Melanie Dunham
Stepping Stone School has been a fixture in the Austin area for over 30 years, and this month Austin Family is taking
a look at how a community favorite got it’s start.
Meet the woman at the heart of it all: Rhonda Paver.
AF: How did Stepping Stone School get started? What was the catalyst and the process to get up and running? What was the timeline?
RP: When my husband Bill and I moved our family to Austin in 1979, my intention had been to work as a teacher, but my search for childcare that provided what I felt was necessary for the acceptable care for my children came up lacking. During my search for childcare, I walked into what became our first school (and our home during that time) on Richcreek in the Crestview neighborhood. In October of 1979, I rented the building and took over the school with just one former student and my own three children. I hung out my first Stepping Stone School sign, became self-educated and worked 14 hours a day. I did it all: cooked, cleaned, taught, repaired and I gave it everything I had. I remember excitedly telling Bill each time I had a visitor or a phone call from prospective families. I then attended the University of Texas to obtain my master’s degree in child development, to ensure that I had a quality view of early care and education.
AF: What surprised you the most about opening a childcare facility? What was the most rewarding aspect?
RP: The biggest surprise was the complex, layered experience, the rewarding human-service opportunity and the high levels of required thoughtfulness and constant ethical decision-making. The most rewarding thing truly is the satisfaction of seeing children learn, grow and thrive in our care!
AF: How has Stepping Stone grown over the years and what are your plans for future development?
RP: On average, we have opened a new school every other year since we began caring for and educating the children of Central Texas. We have steadfastly held tight to our principles and remained family-owned as we have grown to include 16 campuses in the Austin area and two in College Station. We have some exciting things in the works, so stay tuned for the next chapter in the story!
AF: Tell us about your family: your kids and grandkids.
RP: Bill and I have five wonderful children: Mary, Bill, Jim, Colleen and Matthew. We also have been blessed with five beautiful granddaughters with two more on the way! It is heartwarming to see the second generation of Paver children progressing through our schools.
AF: Were there any family experiences that influenced you professionally or encouraged the creation of the school?
RP: I come from a hard-working Alaskan family who taught me the value of a good work ethic and education. I also have the great fortune of a supportive family – assisting me by pitching in with labor, ideas and their own individual expertise!
AF: How has your family been involved with the business? Do you see them having larger roles in the future or are their paths taking them in different directions?
RP: Each of my family members has been active in the life work of Stepping Stone School, bringing their own special gifts that have enriched and helped Stepping Stone School grow over the last 34 years.
AF: How is Stepping Stone different from other schools? What unique opportunities are available for kids?
RP: The Stepping Stone School program focuses on the experience of the whole family. Everything we do – from the expert design of our buildings and curriculum to the selection of nurturing staff members and implementation of our quality assurance program – is for the comfort and development of children and the peace of mind of their parents.
Our unique family service, our own brand of customer service, unifies the program, providing quality and proven educational experiences.
AF: What prompted the creation of the Stepping Stone curriculum? What steps went into its development and who were the principal developers?
RP: Many competing early care programs use “canned” curricula. These programs just aren’t designed to be flexible to fit a school’s population or changing situations. Our curriculum is based on the best child-development research and continues to evolve. It is interwoven with a wealth of opportunities for children to absorb values, life skills, safety concepts, manners and relationship skills together with traditional learning. We also adhere to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) guidelines.
AF: What do you think are the most pressing concerns for working parents today?
RP: The most pressing concerns for working parents haven’t changed much since Stepping Stone School opened. First and foremost, parents want their children to be safe and secure. They want their children in a clean and organized environment. They want their children to have the best educational opportunities, and to thrive and be happy. Stepping Stone School provides the environment, security, training for teachers and quality assurance that give parents the peace of mind they are searching for. They know that their children are not only safe, but that they will grow and thrive in our care.
AF: Stepping Stone often participates in community races and other events. What do you feel your role is in supporting local groups and initiatives? Do the schools encourage community outreach with their students as well?
RP: Supporting children and families in our community is a very important part of our organization and my personal sense of responsibility. I’m pleased to be able to help Caritas and support the work they do for Central Texas families by sponsoring the ThunderCloud Turkey Trot and Stepping Stone School Kids’ K every year. This is just the most obvious example of Stepping Stone School’s commitment to community. Our families also get involved through food drives and by supporting our school-age children during our Young Entrepreneurs and Philanthropists program each summer. These children learn about the business world by creating and executing a business plan. They put together and run four mini businesses throughout the summer, then donate the proceeds of their work to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas (Austin) and Scotty’s House (College Station). They are always so excited knowing that they are helping other children!
AF: What other businesses and community groups do you participate in?
RP:Appointed by the Governor to the Texas State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care (present member)
Active member of the Austin Early Childhood Education Consortium
Member of the Texas Childcare Licensing Advisory Board
Active with the Jeremiah Project
Serves as a business consultant on childcare needs as employee benefits
Writer and speaker, having presented multiple times at the World Forum on Early Care and Education and at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s National Conference
AF: Do you have other business ventures currently or any in the works?
RP: My husband Bill has a business called Foreign Credential Services of America, which provides evaluations of foreign educational documents and equates them to American degrees for those who are looking to enter an educational institution or apply for a job in the United States. All of our family plays active part in this business as well.
AF: Did/do you have a mentor?
RP: I am inspired by children on a daily basis.
I also had the privilege and honor of being mentored, guided and deeply affected by great individuals too numerous to mention throughout the early care and education community. I met many of these individuals during the time I worked on my master’s degree at the University of Texas, and I am still very close to these wonderful individuals today.
AF: Describe your perfect day.
RP: Every day I have the great joy of witnessing the wonder of children and their joy in learning. I delight in the honor of serving my third generation of children and their families!
AF: Is there anything you would like to let readers know about you or Stepping Stone?
RP: I’d like to thank all our families for voting us Austin Family magazine’s Best in Childcare and for the honor of caring for their children for the last 34 years!