Next adventure fulfills lifelong dream
The Little Star School has been a constant in Dani Reynaud’s life. When she was 4 years old, Reynaud was in the very first class of the new Montessori school in Winthrop.
Then, 10 years ago, after working as development director at the Seattle Girls’ School, Reynaud moved back to the Methow to become the school’s executive director. In the decade since, both of her sons have attended the school.
It’s been a fruitful decade in many ways. Reynaud led the school in a major expansion, adding the Little Star South Collaborative on the TwispWorks campus and a second school facility in Winthrop, and offering an enriching child care program for infants and toddlers. Little Star now accommodates 130 children a day, from infants to age 6.
Now Little Star and Reynaud are looking toward the next phase, since Reynaud announced her resignation at the end of this school year, in June. Reynaud and her family – sons Marcel, 11, and Rainier, 9, and her husband, Ray Sanders, who teaches physical education at Methow Valley Elementary School – are moving abroad for a two-year assignment at an International Baccalaureate school, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Still, Reynaud called her departure “bittersweet.” “I’m looking forward to a wonderful year and to soaking up all the Little Star goodness I can,” she said.
While in its 40 years Little Star has grown in many ways to fill the needs of the broader community, it remains true to its original mission, Reynaud said.
One of Reynaud’s earliest memories is playing with the color-coded Montessori cubes that teach young kids about colors and spatial arrangement – and are later used to teach math. “I had a sense of doing something important, and I was excited. I just believe so much in the power of early childhood education and what it can do for families, communities and the world,” she said.
When all the valley’s other child care providers closed half a dozen years ago, Little Star partnered with Room One and the Methow Valley School District to conduct a needs assessment. That led to Little Star developing the first-ever licensed infant-care facility in the Methow.
The needs assessment evolved into a community-wide effort to create programs centered on working families, leading to Little Star Twisp, with hours that accommodate parents’ work schedules, Reynaud said. They added a second building in Winthrop, which has three classrooms and a large, flexible space for music, dance and other activities. All the facilities incorporate outdoor spaces for play and exploration. “It’s a magical place, a home away from home,” she said.
Little Star also tripled financial aid in the past decade to make the school accessible to all who want to attend, Reynaud said. Tuition is 20% below cost, and Little Star fills the gap by fundraising for scholarships.
Since Reynaud took the helm, the school has more than doubled the number of children it serves. Today, Little Star serves 170 families a year and has 36 staff members, who bring experience from a range of educational and personal backgrounds. Some have been with the school for 25 years. “It’s a really rich-in-context learning environment,” Reynaud said.
The late Little Star founder Rayma Hayes played a key role in the expansion, working closely with Reynaud even after she became ill. “Rayma is still with us,” Reynaud said. “Even with all the growth, Little Star feels like the same place, built on love, relationships, childhood and community.”
Reynaud and Sanders have both been offered positions at the same international school, but because they are still finalizing the arrangements, they aren’t at liberty to say where they’ll be going. Reynaud would be the deputy principal of the school’s early-years program, for children age 3 to first grade, and Sanders would teach elementary school.
“I’m ready for a new challenge and adventure, and then returning to the Methow Valley,” she said. “We’re really excited. I think it’s a good fit, and it’s similar to what I’ve been doing here.”
The Little Star board has already chosen a search committee and they’re hoping to select a successor in time for that individual to work with Reynaud before the school year is out, board president Korrie Bourn said.
“I can’t speak highly enough about Dani. Parents, teachers and board members are all honored to have had time with her. She welcomed as many people as she could,” Bourn said. “I’m optimistic about the future.”