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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 10:29 pm | Fair 51º

 
 
 
 

For 24 Years, Orcutt School Board Member Jan Zilli Focused on Kids First

Retiring trustee lauded for energy, commitment and role in establishing high school, Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation

Longtime Orcutt Union School District trustee Jan Zilli responds to a colleague’s comment about what her 24 years of service have meant to the board. “It’s always been about the kids,” she says. “It’s always been about the best for the school district and the community.” Click to view larger
Longtime Orcutt Union School District trustee Jan Zilli responds to a colleague’s comment about what her 24 years of service have meant to the board. “It’s always been about the kids,” she says. “It’s always been about the best for the school district and the community.” (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Throughout her 24 years serving on the Orcutt Union School District board, Jan Zilli had one focus — the students.

“I truly do know kids first is your motto,” Superintendent Debbie Blow told Zilli at her final board meeting Wednesday night.

During the meeting, district staff, officials and fellow board members celebrated Zilli’s service after she decided against seeking another term.

Past and current board members noted her role in helping them learn the intricacies of the California Education Code, negotiations and budgets.

“My mom always told me leave something much better than when you found it, and, Jan, you’ve left this district much better than when you found it,” said Rob Buchanan, a fellow trustee. “You can go off into retirement and know all you’ve done for all those kids.”

Ken Parker, a retired Orcutt school administrator, credited Zilli’s enthusiasm and energy.

“You were willing to roll up your sleeves and get things done,” he said. “Leading by example, that’s how the Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation got going and so many things you’ve touched.

“You’ve put that added spark to it.”

Joe Dana, Orcutt director of charter programs and principal of Olga Reed Elementary School, told about accidentally backing into Zilli’s car after a board meeting years ago while he was a teacher.

“She handled the whole thing with total grace, total class,” he said. “That’s Jan Zilli.”

Jan Zilli, who served as a Orcutt Union School District trustee for 24 years, accepts congratulations during a reception at last week’s school board meeting. Click to view larger
Jan Zilli, who served as a Orcutt Union School District trustee for 24 years, accepts congratulations during a reception at last week’s school board meeting. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Zilli said she was recruited to the board by the Orcutt district’s then-superintendent, Jack Garvin, who has since retired and now serves on the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board.

She was Parent-Teacher Association president when Garvin approached her, but she initially rejected the thought of entering politics.

“I said two terms maximum,” Zilli said, adding various projects going on in the district led her to seek re-election until she had served six terms.

While Zilli is giving up her role on the Orcutt school board she pledged to remain active in the Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation board.

“I feel really gratified the community kept putting me back in this position year after year, and I really truly enjoyed it,” she said. “I just feel absolutely blessed I had such a great group to work with the entire time I’ve been on the board.”

Zilli, whose now grown sons attended Orcutt schools, saw the district through some exciting and some challenging times, she recalled.

“I’m really proud of the high school and the fact we were able to to think so far outside the box and come up with something that was really unique and also really successful,” she said.

“I think that’s been something that’s been really successful.”

In addition to Orcutt Academy High School and Charter School, during Zilli’s reign the district’s acquired the Casmalia and Los Alamos school districts and developed an independent study program.

During her stint, the district laid off employees and closed a school, both actions she labeled heartbreaking.

As she left the board, she also was excited the district’s latest bond, Measure G, appeared to be headed for approval.

“That was really exciting because we’ve managed to do without for many many years and still keep the quality of education really high in this area,” Zilli said.

She also spent seven years on the California School Boards Association board of directors.

“When you’re out of this district, you find out there are some really scary things that go on some boards, and how really dysfunctional some boards are,” Zilli added.

“I have been blessed the entire time I have been here with every board member — which hasn’t been that many because we hang out a long time — who just have the right reason for being here.”

After a pause, she added a last reflection.

“It’s always been about the kids,” she said. “It’s always been about the best for the school district and the community.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Fellow Orcutt schools trustee Rob Buchanan shares a story about retiring trustee Jan Zilli. Click to view larger
Fellow Orcutt schools trustee Rob Buchanan shares a story about retiring trustee Jan Zilli. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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