Montessori schools are unique, so they need their own unique cloud-based school management system. That’s why Raleigh-based Clever Education Solutions is here.
Co-Founder Dominique Mouthon understands the need from firsthand experience. As a Montessori-trained teacher who became the head of Montessori School of Quincy and Follow The Child Montessori School in Raleigh, she also watched her children attend Montessori schools.
The Montessori method of education was developed by Italian doctor Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. It focuses on the developmental needs of children, allowing them to lead within the classroom and choose their activities.
Students are in multi-age classrooms where they hold more freedom in their own exploration and skill development, and the teacher works as more of a facilitator, Dominique said. Montessori classrooms are not the typical kids-sitting-in-stationary-desks set-up, and students are free to move around.
After retiring and talking with a fellow Follow The Child Montessori School coworker Katie McChesney for years about the difficulties of the software solutions they had for the school, they decided to do something about it. Dominique, McChesney, Dominique’s husband Serge Mouthon, and Blake Skidmore—a father of Montessori-educated children who’s also a developer of education software—together founded Clever Education Solutions in early 2020.
“We were just joking for years saying, ‘Oh, we should create our own, this is not working for us, we should do this ourselves,’” Dominique said. “And once I retired, this idea germinated even more. And that’s what we’ve been doing since then.”
Clever Education Solutions is currently beta-testing its software with three schools and hopes to onboard 10 more schools during the summer. The startup recently received a $10K MICRO grant from NC IDEA to aid its growth.
The software offers specific features that target Montessori principles that are often missing from other education software. One module is dedicated to the teacher and classroom, another dedicated to student database management, and a third for admissions.
All aspects of Clever Education Solutions are fully integrated, Serge said. Clever Education Solutions’ intent is to bring efficiency to Montessori schools with an enterprise system, he said.
The admission functionality is a yearly subscription fee, while the other functionalities charge a fee per student per month.
“Really what is driving us is trying to help especially the small- and medium-sized Montessori schools,” Dominique said. “You’ve got a lot of people who are working really hard, who are passionate about their work and pouring everything that they have into their job, and unfortunately, they don’t have the support of a well-thought-out and specifically conceived product for the Montessori work that they do that would make their life easier.”
Montessori is a method that is growing in popularity in the United States and worldwide, Serge said. Its application is also growing when it comes to the elderly because of the benefits of using hands-on materials.
In education, Serge said that Clever Education Solutions’ goal is to free up time so teachers can reinvest it more into students’ education.
Specially tailored to Montessori classrooms
Much of the prior software in this space does not fit the Montessori classroom, but the founders come from a background to fully understand those unique needs.
“There’s a lot of software that’s out there that feels like it’s built by a software team that has never stepped foot in a classroom,” said Skidmore, who led the software development. “And that’s where we’re a big differentiator. We all have experience in classrooms. We know how chaotic it is, on various levels. And even though they’re well-thought-out and there are some big players out there, for the Montessori space, they’re impossible to use.”
Education is an area that was hard-hit by the pandemic, which forced schools to make major adjustments. Montessori education especially had to navigate how to take their hands-on approach to learning into a virtual environment.
Says Dominique, “Montessori being such a hands-on approach to education and having all these materials that the children can experience physically has propelled Montessori schools into the unknown.”
For the founders, It’s been a silver lining that Clever Education Solutions is able to give these schools support during this time.
Covid-19 has made customer discovery more challenging as schools have so much to think about, Serge said. But still, in some ways, the rise of virtual learning has helped Clever Education Solutions’ position since there’s more reliance on software for communication and schools have felt the flaws in their current systems more acutely.
Says Skidmore, “When it becomes your primary method of communication and transparency of what needs to happen, from a teacher to student and teacher to parent, it’s really vital at this point. So schools are really seeing that, hey, everything is completely disconnected. And now this is 10 times more work than we ever thought it would be.”
Ultimately, the age of virtual schools is shedding a light on the potential of what Clever Education Solutions can offer these schools.