Mandala Story

Mandala Story

Mandala Children’s House was founded in 1975, through the vision and commitment of Marilyn Drino, a credentialed teacher, and Linda H, a Montessori-trained teacher with administrative experience in Early Childhood Education. Linda, as Administrative Director, and Marilyn, as Preschool Director, began on a shoestring budget with 11 students in one preschool class and five child care homes affiliated with Mandala that served low-income children through a county grant. Linda and Marilyn were brought together by Anne Kangas, LCSW, who participated in the creation of the school and later joined the administrative team.

In Marilyn’s words:

“We wanted to set up a quality school on the East Side and we were really committed to diversity, which is why we sought grants from the State so that we could have low-income students in our school population. We wanted to offer quality preschool to everyone.

Probably the most important part of our vision was the idea (which was quite novel at the time) of integrating social-emotional growth with cognitive and physical growth and creating a means for children to blend all of these areas into their learning…not as separate entities…but as a WHOLE.

We also wanted to establish a place where we could work and be mothers and not feel the pull between work and family. We wanted to create a work environment that supported people in caring for their family, rather than hindering them. Our vision was a work-place where people are committed to using good communication skills, where people are supported and respected, and where the staff is encouraged to continue to grow and develop, personally and professionally.

We’ve become more sophisticated in what we do now, and more professional, but all the attitudes are still the same today.”

By the end of 1976, Mandala expanded to include an afternoon session and a Home Child Care network serving 30 low-income children through a grant from the State Department of Education. Mandala was a model program for the innovative combination family “home” child care plus Montessori preschool.

The years that followed were highlighted by an increase in staff, a summer session, the Early Preschool class, a prekindergarten program, and an extended lunch program during the summer. Linda left her position in 1982 but consulted until 1985. From 1982-1984, Ximena Pearson served as Administrative Director and was instrumental in organizing a complete remodeling of Mandala.

In 1984, a horizontal management team model was formally adopted by the Board to reflect a style consistent with Mandala’s philosophy. Marilyn Drino became the Preschool Director, Jean Buell the Child Care Director, Roberta Sota the Office Director, and Patricia Bagby the Business Manager. In 1987, this model was modified slightly and Marilyn Drino was appointed to the position of Administrative Director by the Board and given leadership responsibility for the entire organization, although the team functioned collaboratively.

In 1991 we added Family Services to provide support to families and strengthen social-emotional health in the classroom. Anne Kangas, LCSW, joined the Administrative Team to offer guidance and resources in early childhood intervention. Anne was part of the original founding of Mandala and had served on the Board as the Personnel Chairperson since its inception.

In the school year 2000-2001, Mandala families and friends celebrated Mandala’s 25th Anniversary. What a milestone! Many of the staff had been with us for over twenty years. At this time, we formalized our mission statement, “Nurture the child. Support the family. Nourish the staff.”

We honored our 35th year with more change. Roberta Sota retired in 2009 and Marilyn Drino, our founder, retired in 2010. Marilyn moved from her role as Administrative Director to that of Consultant, offering her wisdom and experience as needed.

In 2010, a new Executive Team was formed with Jean Buell as Executive Director, Penny Lawrie as Preschool Director, and Anne Kangas as Family Services/Personnel Director. In addition, Mary McDonald moved from the classroom into the role of Childcare Program & Facilities Manager.

In 2013, the Board implemented a structural reorganization to reduce costs, eliminating the position of Executive Director and hiring a bookkeeper to manage Mandala’s accounting system.

In 2015, we established a new “Spirit of Mandala Award” to honor individuals whose generosity and goodwill embodies the spirit of Mandala. This award was launched in honor of Kathi and Mike Endris, who as grandparents have offered Mandala generous financial support over the years for major renovations of the classrooms and grounds. They have been devoted benefactors of Mandala in countless ways. In June of 2016, at the end of our anniversary school year, we honored our 40 years of serving the East Foothills community with a special celebration, looking back with gratitude and looking to the future with anticipation and hope.

As part of their long-term strategic plan, the Board also announced re-envisioned administrative roles in 2015-16. The Executive Team became Anne Kangas, L.C.S.W., as Head of School/Family Services, Julie Saccento, as Assistant Head of School & Enrollment, and Atty Rosas, OTR/L as Family Resource Specialist. New Classroom Administrator roles were named with Penny Lawrie as Preschool Director of Teachers and Aparna Veeraraghavan as Preschool Director of Classrooms (both teaching also).

For two years, Anne Kangas mentored Julie and Atty to take over the leadership of the school in preparation for her retirement in August 2018. It was time for change and a new generation to lead Mandala forward. The new Executive Team of Julie Saccento as Administrative Director and Atty Rosas, OTR/L as Director of Family Resources guided Mandala into the 2018 school year. They will work closely with Aparna Veeraraghavan, Preschool Director of Classrooms, the office team, and the Board of Directors. Anne Kangas, LCSW will serve as Clinical Consultant, offering weekly support to the leadership team.

We are now in our 47th year and our tradition of excellence continues. We are proud of our total school program and the reputation we have earned in our local and statewide community. Although Mandala is always growing and changing, we remain faithful the core values that have sustained us for over four decades.

Mandala Mission: “Nurture the child. Support the family. Nourish the staff.”