Santa Barbara County Education Office - ZACA Center



ZACA's Introduction

Hi, I’m Florene Bednersh with the Santa Barbara County Education Office. I’m Assistant Superintendent and I oversee all of our special education programs.

Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, we were doing a lot of inclusion of our preschool classrooms. Moving our kids off of public elementary schools where there weren’t really any age appropriate peers, into state preschools, head starts, and private preschools. In '96 we were working in the Santa Ynez Valley, trying to move in that direction. We were having a really hard time finding a place to put our kids. Most of the schools there were religiously affiliated and there was quite a bit of religion engrained in the program and that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We found this program called ZACA Center. It was a privately owned preschool. We went and met with the director and talked about including some of our kids in her program.

When we started talking money, she wanted some exorbitant amount of money and I said, hey, we are a school district, we don’t have a lot of money, we are willing to work with you and you get a lot of bonuses--Our usual pitch. She said, “Well I’m going bankrupt right now so why don’t you just buy if from me.” I laughed at her and we departed our ways. I went home that night and I thought, I wonder if we could buy it?

So, I went back to my superintendent the next day, and he said, “Write a business plan and let’s talk about it.” I did some research, learned how to write a business plan, worked with my fiscal people, and we wrote the plan. I contacted the state department and I said, can a county office run a private enterprise? They said, “Well if it’s kept totally separate from special ed” (because we wanted to include our special ed kids) “you would have to keep those monies separate,” but they didn’t see a problem with it. So we made the pitch and we did it!

That was back in '96, we bought the ZACA School, we basically bought all the equipment, my superintendent gave us a loan, we took over the program and we hired the staff. I had to learn all about licensing, how to get us licensed and how to hire people with the right kind of preschool units. I had to hire a director for the preschool and we hired a wonderful woman named Shelley Grand, who is with us to this day. The preschool, as I said, was going bankrupt. Today it’s a thriving preschool, we have a waiting list, we’ve been recognized and we are part of the SEEDS demonstration site for the preschool.

Shelley Grand: Director
When the preschool was first purchased, we only had nine preschoolers enrolled. Today we have 60 preschoolers enrolled. My job was actually to fill the preschool with preschoolers and get it up and running. My goal was just to make budget. We couldn’t cross over budgets, we couldn’t use special needs funds to pay for regular ed students, so that was my job—to get that portion of the preschool built up. Nine preschoolers were not going to do that. I spent a lot of time with open houses, advertising and just reworking the center and the program to get it up and running. Today with the 60 preschoolers, it’s been very successful.

The ZACA Center believes that learning is an ongoing process. We allow the children their own space and time to grow in their own way. We do encourage a lot of tactile experiences, especially a lot of social experiences, language groups. We spend a lot of time on that and their social interaction within each other in groups as well as individual interactions and teacher-child interactions.

Sheila Ammons: Educator
There are six general education teachers on staff in three different classrooms. Teachers work in teams so I’m able to work with each of the three teams of teachers. The collaboration piece is huge. We work together and I love that most of my students don’t think of me as their teacher. That’s great, that means I’m doing my job. They think of the general ed teacher as their teacher and I’m just someone who appears sometimes to help give them a little extra help and support. Collaborating is the most important part of what we do.