Wendy Davis has always had a passion for helping shape children’s futures through preschool and Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten education. She spent 14 years teaching in a classroom at the First United Methodist Learning Center Preschool, in Winter Garden, and then served as director for the last seven years.
It’s time to retire and allow someone else to lead the school, she said. Lily Frets, who spent several years as Davis’ assistant, has been appointed the new director.
Davis took over the director’s position in 2015 after the original director, Patty Tate, retired. One of Davis’ daughters was in Tate’s first class in 1992. After a short term as an assistant, Davis left and returned in 2001, serving as a 3-year-old teacher before moving up to the 4-year-old class and then VPK.
It has been a wonderful experience, she said. “I just can’t say enough about the staff. They just pull us through all the time. … We’ve had some situations that have been immediate … and we’ve always pulled through together to make it happen — and that’s part of our success as a preschool.”
When Davis’ husband, Brad, had a medical emergency a few years ago, she had complete faith her staff could continue to run the program in her absence.
The preschool has grown significantly during her years there. VPK was added in 2010, and that’s when Davis made the switch to that classroom. It started with nearly 70 students and expanded to more than 100. When COVID-19 hit, enrollment temporarily dipped, she said, but the school was able to maintain its staff. The student numbers are on the rise again.
Davis said she will miss the connection with the children the most.
“Just coming in and having the kids, seeing the kids because they just make your day with their smiles and their love,” she said. “And seeing and just having a rapport with the parents … and watching the kids grow and getting to know the families as they travel through the school.”
She said she’s grateful to the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden for giving the preschool the space to thrive and make an impact in the community.
“Our families have all come word-of-mouth since I’ve been here, and it’s just great to have that reputation,” Davis said. “Patty always said, ‘It will always work out … and tomorrow’s going to be another day.’ And Pastor Rusty (Belcher) said to me when I first started … ‘I just want you to remember to have a servant’s heart and it will be OK.’
“I always live by those words, and I think we did OK,” Davis said.
Davis said she and her husband will take some time to figure out how they want to spend their retirement years, but for now they intend to travel locally and spend time with their children, who live in Montverde, Jupiter and Bradenton, and their grandchildren, Charlie and Emily Terenzio. She said she might consider going back to work part-time, possibly doing some VPK consulting work.
“The scariest is figuring out the next chapter in life,” she said.
Frets is excited about her new role at the preschool. Her first experience with the Learning Center was in 2004 when her children attended there. Her son was in Davis’ 4-year-old class.
“I love this school so much,” she said. “I just wanted to continue with its wonderful (program). It’s a great school (and) you just want to keep it going.”
Originally hired as the KinderGym teacher in 2008, Frets became Davis’ assistant in the 4-year-old program in 2010 and a classroom teacher when Davis started as director.
Traditions are important, Frets said, and she wants to continue events such as Muffins with Mom and Doughnuts with Dad — and even bring back some old traditions, including Grandparents Day and participation in the Winter Garden Christmas Parade and the fall festival. She wants to add more VPK classes and possibly incorporate a Spanish language learning program and Little Kickers soccer program.
“I’m going to miss being in the classroom,” Frets said. “I used to have 12 kids; I get the whole school now. I’m looking forward to that and dealing with the families. I’m a person person. I love people.”
Classroom assistant Jennifer Jenkins will replace Frets in her former position. Jenkins’ mother, Diane Holton, was a teacher at the preschool, and Jenkins’ child has attended the preschool.
“It’s a great mom job,” Frets said. “It’s conducive with their schedule.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.