Owner of Child Care Center Learns the ABCs of Success

Christina Dorando, owner of Cresthill Academy

EAST HANOVER, NJ---Christina Dorando knows something about the ABCs of success.  As the owner of two child care facilities, Ms. Dorando likes to say, “We’re changing the way people look at early education.”

For Ms. Dorando, it has become her passion and a labor of love.  Before embarking on a career as an entrepreneur in early education, she had set her sights on conducting policy work for the UN or a NGO.  “Initially I was interested in a career in Policy & Management and International Relations, which is what I earned my undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon,” said Ms. Dorando. “However, while at Harvard University, where I earned my Masters in International Educational Policy, my focus changed.”

She was working as a consultant for an industry leader in higher education that provided its clients with research, data, consulting, and advisory services.  About the same time, the recession hit hard and Ms. Dorando asked herself, “What do I do now?”

“My mom worked at a preschool and asked me to fill in for her,” said Ms. Dorando.  “I guess you can say that by happenstance I discovered early education and fell absolutely in love with it.”

That led to a career change to teaching. “After several years teaching preschool, I had envisioned an early childhood education development program that offered beyond the status quo.   Children deserve a progressive program with an emphasis on organic meals, balanced and integrated curriculum, and the benefits of early foreign language education taught in an immersive and fun environment,” said Ms. Dorando. “I just needed to do this on my own.”

So in 2012 the opportunity came to start a pre-school in Lyndhurst.  The focus was on children from the ages of 2-5. “At first it was just me doing everything from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. until I was able to grow the enrollment of the school and then hire additional staff,” said Ms. Dorando.

Within two years, enrollment at the Hillcrest Pre-School had reached capacity with 33 students. With the success achieved at Hillcrest, Ms. Dorando was more than ready for her next challenge of opening a second facility. However, instead of duplicating what she had established in Lyndhurst, Ms. Dorando had set her sights on a slightly different concept. 

Because, the new concept was different, Ms. Dorando decided to name the new school Cresthill Academy and focus on children from the ages of six weeks old to 6-years old in a facility that could accommodate up to 144 children.

Despite her success with her first venture, Ms. Dorando needed help with the financing of Cresthill Academy. That’s when she turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration for help. When she was starting her first venture, Ms. Dorando met Sandip Patel, Vice President of SBA relationship manager at Radius Bank who helped her with the process of applying for an SBA loan for her second venture.    With that help, Ms. Dorando was approved for a $450,000 SBA-backed loan from Radius Bank.  

The loan from the SBA helped Ms. Dorando to purchase equipment and complete the necessary leasehold improvements that enabled her to launch Cresthill Academy in East Hanover during October of 2014.

In just under six months, Cresthill Academy had five out of eight classrooms open and operating. “Each day, enrollment is growing and the word is spreading about our teaching methods that nurture and encourage the love of school and learning,” said Ms. Dorando. “It also helps that we’re strategically located right off of Route 10 and near major companies like Novartis and Mondelēz in the area.  I am proud to operate a center where working parents can drop their child off knowing that our staff and facility provides a secure, safe, and fun environment that stimulates and promotes early learning and development for each child.”

Those services and programs include music, language, art, science, cooking, literacy, and geography.  “I attribute our success to incorporating the best of each educational theory,” said Ms. Dorando.  “Our in house curriculum takes a balance approach to preschool education by utilizing the very best of the Montessori, the Reggio approach, the Creative curriculum and the HighScope model.  We make sure that curriculum fits the need of the individual child while supporting the learning goals of the entire class.”

“I am so thankful for the SBA loan,” said Ms. Dorando.  “The loan has allowed me to fulfill my vision of opening a second childcare facility on a larger scale, which allows this facility to offer more services and programs to more families.”

“Young entrepreneurs like Christina Dorando who take their vision and grow it into a thriving business in a short amount of time are raising the bar and expectations of what to expect from this next generation of small business owners,” said SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone.  “We are so grateful to the partnerships we have formed with lenders like Radius Bank which allow us to invest in innovative small businesses like Cresthill Academy.”

“In the next five years, I would like to open three new centers,” said Ms. Dorando.  “Depending on the demographics and areas we choose to locate, it could be under the moniker of Hillcrest Preschool or Cresthill Academy. I do know that to reach those goals it’s going to take hard work on my part.” 

Ms. Dorando who emigrated from China to the United States at eight-years old says, “I saw my parents work extremely hard to make a better life for my sister and I,” she added.  “No job was ever beneath them.  I have that same work ethic and passion for early childhood development and innovation.” 

It’s this type of forward thinking and desire to push the envelope that makes you take notice and see that Christina Dorando has learned the ABCs of success.