Santa Barbara County Education Office - ZACA Center
History of ZACA
Florene Bednersh: Assistant Superintendent
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 and we were having a really hard time finding a place to put our kids. We found this program called ZACA Center. It was a privately owned preschool and we went and talked to 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 it from me?” I laughed at her and we departed our ways and 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, “Well, write a business plan and let’s talk about it.” So, 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.
Inclusion at ZACA
Leana Watson: Parent
The strength of ZACA is the total integration, really serves two purposes in my mind. It’s such a huge asset for the children who have special needs because they see proper peer modeling, they see speech behavior, patterning, social interaction, and drawing skills. It’s a huge and tremendous asset for the children that don’t have special needs.
McClain is my daughter, she is the youngest and she is four and a half. She has been here at ZACA from the time she was able to go to preschool. She does not have special needs. She is very outspoken, very social, and really is a child who has benefited from preschool in general, but has especially benefited from the situation here at ZACA. I, of course, knew it was a fabulous preschool for children with special needs, but it is amazing to realize that of the children at ZACA, only 15% have special needs and the other 85% are getting this amazing education and amazing experiences, but they are also getting a great lesson, everyday, in compassion, in socializing with children who have different needs than they do, and different experiences than they do and they do it in such a way that is seamless.
Sheila Ammons: Educator
The overall reason is that research tells us that kids learn best from each other. That means I can sit and work with a child and be working on a concept and they may not be that interested in what I have to say, but if they can see it in action with the other kids, that’s way more interesting than just working with an adult.
Shelley Grand: Director
It’s just a collaborative effort. Everyone works with all of the students, you won’t ever see that, “oh these are your students,” or “oh these are mine.” It’s just one big effort.