On June 1 Dean Bradley opened a 2,500-square-foot field support office in Lawrenceville for Kumon North America. Kumon provides after-school education for children from preschool through college, and Bradley dubs it “the largest afterschool anything in the world, with three million children worldwide.”

Kumon’s program, based on the principle of mastery learning, is self-paced, using progressive worksheets to teach new concepts and reinforce them. Bradley is team leader for the new office, which covers Pennsylvania and a large swath of New Jersey that extends from south of Newark Airport to the Delaware Bridge; he is also leader for Kumon’s regional hub in Teaneck.

New Jersey currently has 14,000 Kumon students. Kumon opened the Lawrenceville office so that the staff members could be closer to the instructors they serve. The Teaneck office, which handles marketing, public relations, and franchisee recruitment for the East Coast, from Washington through Boston, continues to provide support for centers north of Newark Airport.

The three permanent staff members, plus the two who shuttle between Teaneck and Lawrenceville, provide monthly in-service training for franchisees and organize drop-in study groups where instructors work together on Kumon’s high school materials and share case studies.

Franchisees vary in their backgrounds, says Bradley, from people with teaching experience to engineers whowe children have been through the Kumon curriculum. Each franchisee usually operates one center, and occasionally two, out of a commercial space.

Kumon’s franchise fee is $1,000, and the estimated initial investment to open one new center ranges from $15,163 to $37,778. Kumon requires a $500 deposit and usually offers a rental subsidy of $700 a month for the first year. Students pay from $80 to $100 per month, and, according to the Kumon website, franchisees pay a minimum royalty of $30 per student per subject per month.

Kumon rates as number 18 franchiser overall, according to Entrepreneur magazine, and it ranks number one in the tutoring category.

Kumon opened its first North American office in the late 1980s in Los Angeles, followed soon by an office in Fort Lee on the East Coast. Kumon North America has been growing at 15 percent or more a year, according to Bradley, and now has 215,000 students across North America, with between 1,500 and 1,600 franchises and 24 field offices in the United States alone. “In the east,” he says, “we recently cracked 40,000 students.”

In this area Kumon has franchises at the Princeton Shopping Center, Forest Glen Plaza in Hamilton, Princeton Meadows in Plainsboro, Princeton Arms Shopping Center in West Windsor, and the Village Shopper in Rocky Hill.

Typically centers are open two days a week for three to four hours. Children pick up work that has been preplanned by the instructor. An assistant usually grades the work, and children are required to correct any mistakes. Before leaving, the students show their work to the instructor, who assigns homework for the next three or four days. “It’s like pushups, 15-20 minutes each day,” explains Bradley, adding that students do not advance until they are ready.

“Parents are a pivotal part of the whole process,” explains Bradley. The instructors provide a parent orientation, often sharing personal experiences about how their own children progressed through the Kumon program. Parents of younger children are asked to read to the children every night and use stickers to mark each book they have completed; they also use flashcards to supplement their children’s worksheets. Parents of older children grade the work every night, using Kumon’s answer book.

The goal, says Bradley, is to “mimic the process at the center, creating the same environment at home.” Kumon suggests that parents set up a Kumon Corner at home in a place where students will not be disturbed.

Half of the Kumon students come for remedial work and half exceed grade level. Typically students have come from the suburbs, but Kumon has seen an increase in interest from the inner city.

Bradley doesn’t see big tutoring organizations like Huntington and Sylvan as competitors to Kumon, because they don’t use a worksheet-based program and they often charge three times as much per month. He says there are some smaller-scale competitors.

Bradley, who has been involved in Kumon for 18 years, grew up in Toronto and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Toronto. He had wanted to join the foreign service and attributes his interest in the wider world to his parents. “My parents were travel people,” he says. “My father was an airline executive for Air Canada, and my mother owned travel agency.”

During college, he tutored a Japanese theology student in French. “He also tutored me in Japanese,” adds Bradley, “but I took only the food seriously.” The Japanese student also introduced Bradley to Kumon, where he worked early on with an excellent mentor, the personal secretary of founder Toru Kumon. And Bradley has stayed with the company. “I am an anomaly,” he says, to be with the same company from post-college to age 42, but he adds, “I have seen so many people’s lives changed as a result of Kumon.”

As for his plans for the future, says Bradley, “we’re looking to outgrow this office as quickly as possible.”

Kumon North America, 3150 Brunswick Pike, Suite 350, Crossroads Corporate Center, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-882-0160; fax, 609-882-2729. Dean Bradley, region leader. www.kumon.com

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