Meet the Team
Dr. Dustine Rey is the founder and Executive Director of The Gratitude Garden Preschool and co-founder of TESLA Country Day. Both schools are committed to nurturing curiosity and creativity through balancing innovative STEM curricula, artistic expression, entrepreneurship, leadership, and emotional well-being. Over the past twenty-five years, Dr. Rey has worked in every facet of education; from teaching preschool to graduate students, to school counseling and administration, and most recently school architecture and educational entrepreneurship. She attributes becoming an entrepreneur to her own search for an innovative education for her daughter. Her daughter, Satya, is her inspiration and she includes her daughter in the leadership and hiring process of the schools.
Dr. Rey holds a Doctorate of Education in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California where she completed a higher education teaching fellowship in the Rossier School of Education. She earned a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy from Pepperdine University, a Bachelors Degree in Clinical Psychology from San Jose State University, a California Teaching Credential, and a California Child Development Program Director Permit. Dr. Rey presents at various conferences and workshops on the topics of emotional well-being, human development, and educational leadership.
Currently, Dr. Rey is an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University and conducting research in the measurement of pro-social behaviors among young children and the development of a pro-social curriculum for children ages 4-7.
Her dynamic and dedicated approach has garnered her a reputation as a significant leader in both early childhood education and higher education. In 2013, San Diego Magazine nominated her for “Women of the Year” for her service to the community and education.
“I feel blessed each day to be a mother and an educator. I am grateful to be part of a community that helps me to grow and that through my work I can help others to grow and thrive. My family, health, animals, and nature continue to inspire me and for that support, I am always in awe.” ~Dr. Rey
Mr. Chris Kuzcynski, Esq., Co-founder and Director of Operations
Mr. Kuzcynski was drawn to education upon graduating from the University of Washington and began practicing and teaching engineering design and analysis principles at the General Motors Advanced Engineering Center in Michigan. His STEM experience broadened as a Registered Patent Attorney at the United States Patent and Trademark Office where he prepared and prosecuted U.S. and PCT patent applications in various technical arts. He holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Engineering, a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA), and a Juris Doctorate (JD).
He brings his scientific, financial, legal, and business background to strengthen and broaden the STEM educational offerings of the school.
“My vision is to create a thriving educational experience by providing a safe and purposeful home away from home for children and their parents.” ~Mr. Kuzcynski
Ms. Kelly Eason, Director
Ms. Eason began her professional journey with early childhood education through the City of Fullerton’s Parks and Recreation Department as an Afterschool Program Specialist & Mentor. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development from CSU Fullerton and a Site Supervisor Permit with the State of California. Ms. Eason found her purpose in making a difference in the lives of children through teaching; she had an unprecedented reputation of providing high quality education and connection with her families. She soon graduated from her teaching position and moved into an administrative role as a preschool director. She is committed to her local community and continues to create ways for our school to connect to our community and serve its needs.
“I am truly grateful for the opportunity to become a part of the Gratitude Garden where I will continue to grow. I love spending my time outdoors and am eager to explore the beaches of Southern Orange County.” ~Ms. Eason
Ms. Michelle Penick, Lead Teacher
Ms. Michelle Penck has been helping children succeed in learning for over 16 years. She is a credentialed teacher with a Teaching Credential from San Francisco State, a Bachelors Degree in Theater Arts and an Associates Degree in Animal Sciences. She has taught public elementary school grades K-2, preschool, and tutored children for the past several years. Previously, she worked for the Education Department at San Diego Zoo where she gave animal presentations and led special tours.
Ms. Penick loves doing dramatic play with children using puppets and enjoys watching children use their imaginations in all aspects of learning to the fullest. She believes that children learn best through exploration, fun and laughter. She lives in Talega with her parrot, fish, tortoise.
“I am grateful to work at a beautiful school with great families plus lots of animals so close to my home in our little village by the sea. I’m also grateful to live close to my own family and believe that every day is a gift that should not be wasted.” ~ Ms. Penick
Mrs. Stacy Feinberg, Assistant Teacher
Mrs. Stacy Feinberg holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications with minor in Child Psychology from Cal State Northridge. Stacy has worked as a Lovaas Certified Therapist and has a long history of caring for children with special needs. Stacy has three young children of her own and remains very involved in the community as a volunteer for various charity organizations and is an active member of the school board. Since 2013, Stacy has worked with the Center for Autism, a foundation based in Southern California dedicated to supporting children.
“I am grateful for my family, the opportunity to work with gifted people, and a way to embrace the community that I love by sharing my enthusiasm with children.” ~Mrs. Feinberg
Ms. Courtney Flournoy, Co-Teacher
From babysitting to mentoring, Ms. Flournoy has absolutely loved playing a part in raising the next generation. She has studied Early Childhood Education at Saddleback College and in 2014 took a trip to Mozambique, Africa, to visit her family’s orphanage, school and church. This exposure ignited her passion for helping and encouraging children in becoming all they were created to be, despite background, culture or family. She has also been an executive assistant for Acres of Love, a non-profit for orphan care, based in South Africa, thus providing homes for orphans in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. Her genuine warm and compassion is felt by everyone who meets her.
“I am very excited, and truly thankful to be here at The Gratitude Garden Preschool doing what I love to be doing.” ~Ms. Flournoy
Ms. Kim Fisher, Co- Teacher & Outdoor Classroom Specialist
Ms. Fisher has a passion for working with all children and she has special training in working with special needs children. She has a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and Women’s Studies from The University of California at Irvine and is currently acquiring her Early Childhood Education Certificate from The University of California at Los Angeles. Ms. Fisher worked at UCLA law school and then went on to become a youth programs administrator for Sender One, a rock climbing gym in Santa Ana Miss. She has previously been a recreation counselor in The City of Burbank Parks and Recreation Department and a researcher with the University of California, Irvine (UCI) child development center, which focuses its resources on children with ADHD and autism.
She comes from a very large family and enjoys cooking, gardening, and rock climbing.
“I am thankful the opportunity work with so many amazing kids and for my wonderful beagle, Theo.” ~Ms. Fisher
Mrs. Valeria Casalderrey, Co-Teacher
Mrs. Casalderrey is from Venezuela and has been working with children for four years. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Communications from Argentina Universidad Del Salvador and her Child Development Degree from Mira Costa College. She loves the sense of wonder from children and discovering the joy of our planet through their eyes. Since she was young she took care of her family’s children and loved working with young ones so much, that she knew she would become an educator. Mrs. Casalderrey lives in San Clemente and practices yoga and meditations, she enjoys being in nature, cooking healthy dishes, and walking on the beach.
She comes from a large family and visits Latin America frequently. She is excited to teach our students Spanish and introduce some Latin cooking to them.
“I practice gratitude each night before going to sleep. I give thanks for my home, the people I have met, my family, and the opportunity to do what I love to do.” ~Mrs. Casalderrey
Mrs. Tara Fuentes, Lead Afternoon Teacher
Mrs. Fuentes has had the pleasure of working in a preschool for the last twelve years while also continuing her education in Child Development and outdoor educational practices. She holds a certificate as a Master Teacher in early education and a Child Development Master Teacher Permit from the State of California. She is passionate about nature, backpacking, and gardening. Her greatest joy is spending time with her six children (yes, 6 children!), her husband, their Australian Shepard and extended family. She has lived in San Clemente for most of her life and is deeply connected with our local community.
“I am grateful for my family, the beauty of nature, and the joy of working with children. I feel fortunate to be a part of The Gratitude Garden Preschool.” ~Mrs. Fuentes
Ms. Krista Forte, Co-Teacher
Ms. Forte has had a love for working with children since her first job as a mentor at the YMCA. Her experiences there led her to obtain a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Child and Adolescent Development with an Emphasis in Early Childhood and a minor in Special Education from San Francisco State University. Her lifetime of participating in sports has influenced her active teaching style. She enjoys engaging children in hands on activities and reading with them. She has excellent literary experience as she previously volunteered at Reading Partners providing individualized reading comprehension support to young children. Ms. Forte grew up in Dana Point and she is so happy to be back in the area doing what she loves! In her spare time she enjoys working out, going to the beach and spending time with family.
“I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful team at the Gratitude Garden Preschool. I am also thankful for my family and friends who continue to support me in my career.” ~Ms. Forte
Ms. Jade Black, Co-Teacher
Ms. Jade Black has been teaching for the past four years. After graduating from Westmont College with a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts, she began her teaching career in a private school for elementary students. She is inspired by creating moments for students to explore their natural curiosities with hands on experiences.
Ms. Black is currently obtaining her California Teaching Credential with Vanguard University. She has completed student teaching in the Newport-Mesa School District and has taught surfing to young children since 2013.
She resides in Dana Point and loves spending her free time surfing and being outdoors. She values precious time with her family and baby niece. Ms. Black is grateful for opportunities to travel and explore other cultures. She has spent time volunteering and working with children in Rwanda, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic and she feels grateful to be a part of children’s education.
“I am incredibly grateful to be a part of the Gratitude Garden Preschool community. I am excited to learn and explore with the kids this year. I am grateful for my beautiful family, the ocean, and the blessings nature provides.” ~Ms. Black