The philosophy of Starbright Preschool is based on the many diverse experiences of Jean Dordek, the owner and director. Jean worked at the Austin Waldorf School for three years, from 1983 to 1986, first at a kindergarten assistant, then as a kindergarten teacher. During that time she received an overview of Waldorf methodology as well as an extensive reprotoire of songs, stories and artistic ideas. Previously, in the early 1970’s, Jean established and ran an alternative ‘free’ school in Illinois, based on Summerhillian principles, for four through seven year olds.. She also was a teacher for seven years in the late 1970s in an alternative school in Tennessee, where she developed many of her ideas relating to individualizing the curriculum. Two of Jean’s children attended a Montessori School, and two attended the Austin Waldorf School for several years. Finally, Jean has raised four children into adulthood. .
Jean has taught all the groups and ages present at Starbright, as well as Kindergarten, Second Grade, Sixth Grade, Seventh Grade and Ninth Grade. She has a Masters Degree in Education in Counseling and Guidance and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Jean believes in a hands-on director style of supervision, working closely with the staff and all of the children.
In 1986 Jean bought Starbright from a friend, a Waldorf- trained early childhood teacher, who had the school in her living room. The friend had other paths to pursue and sold Jean a box of equipment, some trestles, and a doll bed, and gave Jean the names of some potential parents. Starbright, originally, was a small school of about 8 children.
The first year Starbright was a small, 8:30 – 2:30, preschool with eleven children ages three and a half to five and a half. That year the school met in the living room of a house in Travis Heights. A “housemate” who was a forty year-old male architect, worked at home and took his afternoon nap when the children did! Jean was the only adult and did everything herself. The school was licensed as a group day home and the yard was hedged, but not fenced. Little Stacey was close by, across the street, over a hill, and through a small ravine. The children went there daily to swing and slide. Starbright was an “underground” school in Travis Heights. It didn’t have the right zoning and the Travis Heights Neighborhood Association didn’t want businesses there.
When the school’s “housemate’ moved to the Caribbean, Starbright moved to Jean’s garage for the summer (no air conditioning). The children napped in her living room and Jean couldn’t make a living because the enrollment was so small. Her family rented in Barton Hills and that neighborhood didn’t want businesses there either.
The school moved to 3005 Manchaca, a definite step up, with a nice house and play yard. Next door to the school a little two and a half year old girl spent a lot of time at her grandma’s house and hung out at the fence with the Starbright children every day. Her name was Kim. Eventually the school met her mom, Miss Yvonne, who became one of the original and long-term teachers. The school got bigger, and grew to twenty-two children. Jean’s daughters, Jennifer and Heather, also worked at the school during that period. It was officially a day care center, open 8:00 – 6:00, and the paper work doubled! Jean had some helpers come in the afternoons so that Jean wasn’t there all day. One room in the house was rented out and that poor person couldn’t use the kitchen during circle and nap.
That house had problems. It was too expensive for Starbright to buy and the landlord couldn’t / wouldn’t put money into it. The biggest problem was the zoning. For two and a half years, Jean held the city off from evicting or shutting Starbright down while she tried to either buy the house or get the landlord to change the zoning. Finally, Jean looked for another location.
Starbright has a special angel that looks out for it. Just as the city became totally sick of the school on Manchaca, Jean and Harvey purchased the Valley View house, closing on Thursday, July 31, 1991. By Monday, August the fourth, the school was moved and up and running. A wall had been removed, a fence installed, and the whole place was cleaned and set up.
In September of 1991, there were twenty-five children, ages three to five and a half years old, and three teachers, Jean, and two assistants. The hours were 7:30 – 6:00. It seemed like such a long day. Starbright started taking children at two years, nine months. In October, the class split into two groups and there were thirty children.
With the aid of Jean’s family, devoted parents, and wonderful UT student volunteers, a lot has been accomplished since the move into the house in August of 1991. The yard was fenced, outside equipment was installed, a wall was removed, and the Rainbow room was renovated (it was a dreary, puke-green double car garage before). The wheel chair ramp was added, as well as the landings over the stairs. The back decks and new patio doors were added. The closets were opened up and shelves were put in, the driveway was finished, and the sidewalk was added. A garden was planted in front of the house, and some dead trees were removed. In the back, a garden was planted and the storage shed, geodome, slide, swings, climbing fort, and playhouse were added. The hill was terraced, garden beds put in, pathways created, and trees planted. Benches were added as well as a picnic table deck. A arbor was constructed over the side pathway. Indoors, new carpet and linoleum were installed. All the rooms were painted, and new cupboards were mounted in the kitchen. Outdoors, the guinea pigs have taken up residence.
For the first time in September of 1992, Jean didn’t teach. That year she chose to focus on the administrative side of the school. Then in September of 1993 through the winter of 1994, Jean taught the Rainbow Garden. She wanted to see how to make a Waldorf – type day work for the young child. Most of the regular Waldorf schools do not accept children until the age of four, so there is little in the Waldorf literature on how to work with a child under that age. Recently, Jean and several of the staff have participated in Lifeways training. Lifeways is an off-shoot of Waldorf education specifically addressing the needs of infants and the young child in day care.
In 1995, Jean returned to teaching the older class. Since 1998 she has been in the office, concentrating on a school overview, training her staff, getting to know each child, interfacing with the parents, and of course, trying to stay on top of the mountains of administrative detail involved.
Over the years the school has had and continues to have some wonderful teachers. Sometimes the teachers are parents who then move into teaching. Sometimes the teachers are students from SEU, UT, or ACC who need a part time job and love children. Sometimes teachers refer their wonderful friends to us. Sometimes the teachers attended Waldorf or sometimes they attended Starbright themselves. Sometimes neighbors come to work at the school, drawn to the site by the children. Some are family members. Many of the teachers have Bachelor’s degrees or more advanced degrees in areas that compliment the curriculum. Many of the teachers take outside classes, workshops and training to enhance their knowledge and bring new activities to the children. The teachers are experienced and nurturing.
Starbright started as a family business and remains one to this day. All of Jean’s (now adult) children have worked at Starbright in various capacities in the past. Her granddaughter has attended Starbright and there is a grandson who will attend. Harvey (Jean’s husband) and Josh (Jean’s son) are often around fixing things and playing with the children. Of course, Beau, the Bouvier, attends with Jean always.
Since Starbright began, there have been over 1000 children who have attended. It has grown to approximately sixty children and there are now eight part time teachers. The school is now open 7:00 – 6:00, and enrolls children two and a half to five and a half years of age.