Summerville Parent Nursery School in Tuolumne is entering its 50th year in operation with a positive outlook for the future thanks to a new director and partnership with the Tuolumne Park and Recreation District.

The nursery, which opened in the fall of 1969, was previously operating under the umbrella of the Summerville Union High School District before both sides mutually agreed to part ways over the summer.

“It just provided us a better opportunity to basically go on our own and not be involved with the high school anymore and truly operate how we want as a preschool,” said Nick Zavoda, president of the nursery’s board.

Rachel Tidwell, who grew up in Sonora, was hired by the board to be the school’s new director and teacher for the upcoming school year that begins Sept. 9.

Funding for the preschool historically came from money the state provided to the Summerville Union High School District, though when that dried up the nursery was largely left to fend for itself.

The funding lapses caused uncertainty in years past about whether the school would have to shut down, but Zavoda said all funding now comes from a mix of tuition and fundraising by parents.

“All of that is run by parents,” he said. “We don’t get funding from the state or anything like that.”

Parent involvement has been a key aspect of the school since its inception.

Zavoda refers to the structure as a “nursery co-op,” in which parents volunteer to help around the classrooms and actively be a part of their child’s early learning experience.

“You know who your child is around and the other parents,” he said. “It’s really that small town feel of Sonora, just in a preschool.”

Parents can also drop off their kids like a normal daycare, though the ones who volunteer are offered a discounted rate on tuition.

Children at the preschool range in age from 18 months to 4 years old.

Adult education classes will no longer be offered at the nursery as they were when it was partnered with the high school district, but Zavoda said they still will encourage “heavy parent involvement.”

Zavoda said the new partnership with the Tuolumne Park and Recreation District allows them to operate as a nonprofit day camp under government regulations, though the district does not provide any funding.

“Without it, we might have not been open for the school year,” he said. “But we can proudly say we’ve been operating for 50 years.”

Tidwell, the school’s new director and only paid staff member, holds a bachelor’s degree in child development with a minor in psychology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

She previously worked as a preschool coordinator at Sierra Bible Church in East Sonora and as a substitute for the county Recreation Department’s Tiny Tots program.
“I love working with young kids and watching them grow in all of the different ways — social emotional and physical,” she said. “I have a patience for kids that I learned at a young age.”

The school had about 20 children enrolled last year. They handed out 30 enrollment packets at their open house on Wednesday.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.