In March of 1994, a small, determined group of parents and educators set out to create a new kind of school. These founding families believed in Lisa Rosenstein as an educator–in her vision, in her work ethic, and in her upbeat approach to life. Their shared vision imagined a progressive, innovative educational approach with strong academic roots that instilled character and compassion, inspired intellectual fearlessness and flexibility, and appealed to a broad demographic throughout Los Angeles. Together they drafted The Willows’ founding principles and embarked upon a seemingly impossible mission: to open the doors of this school within a record amount of time. The founding families formed a termporary Board of Trustees and sought advice from a broad spectrum of experts. They agreed upon the name The Willows Community School, honoring a tree that grows quickly, whose branches bend but do not break.
Their vision began to materialize when the school leased a warehouse located in Culver City. The faculty and founding parents galvanized support for the school throughout the educational community and families began to enroll while construction teams raced to transform the warehouse. Less than six months later, The Willows Community School opened its doors to 90 students in developmental kindergarten through fifth grade. The school consisted of a single building in the Hayden Tract of Culver City, which became Willows 1. The founders had realized their dream, and every year since, The Willows’ population and programming has grown. Now 20 years later, The Willows has evolved into one of the most desirable schools in Los Angeles, extending across a 2.86 acre, 124,404 square foot campus composed of five buildings and educating more than 445 students. Willows 1 was purchased in 2009.
In 1998, The Willows added a second kindergarten, and opened its Middle School by leasing Willows 2, a second building on campus that included a bright, spacious art room, a comprehensive science lab, and a learning resource center containing more than 25 multi-media stations, as well as middle school classrooms. Willows 2 was purchased in 2009.
In 2000, the campus grew again with the expansion of the playground and the introduction of Willows 3, a long-term leased building containing a library and a state-of-the-art technology center.
In 2003, the opening of Willows 4 dramatically enhanced the campus with the addition of a world-class gymnasium that accommodates the P.E. program, sports teams, and large all-school events; an intimate black-box theatre, choral and electronic music studios, and rehearsal space.
In 2009, Willows 1 and Willows 5 were purchased, and the development and implementation of a Master Plan and the quiet phase of a Capital Campaign were launched. In 2012 and 2013, the first phases of The Willows Master Plan began. The building on Willows 5 was demolished in the fall of 2012, and construction ensued through summer 2013 to complete The Willows 5 Warner Drive entrance, three dedicated sports courts, and a flexible outdoor space.
In December 2012, Willows 6, the building at 8510 Warner Drive, was purchased, creating one secure, contiguous campus of 2.86 acres and 72,973 square feet of building space.
Major construction of the first phase of The Willows Master Plan began during the summer of 2013 and continued through January 2014, with the Dedication of the New Campus held on January 26, 2014. The Willows campus now has new, flexible learning spaces, a warm and welcoming entrance, dedicated outdoor athletic courts, enhanced security, a S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and math) educational lab, and a total updating of The Lower Elementary Building. The Library/Media Center, which has been moved to the heart of our campus, has been redesigned as a fluid, dynamic space conducive to interdisciplinary learning, the sharing of knowledge, intellectual discourse, and individual growth. The transformation of our campus exterior areas continued in 2014 resulting in beautiful landscaped areas with the addition of shade trees; an expanded organic garden; a new, interactive playground with a slate wall and sand and water play areas; a Kindergarten Yard; play areas devoted to both active and imaginative, quiet play, and community gathering spaces; and a Middle School Alley. Completion of this phase of our Master Plan is a true reflection of The Willows’ spirit and culture.
The phenomenal growth of the school’s facilities and programming reflects the commitment of the parent body to the school’s goals and vision.
In an amazing 20 years, the school’s student body has increased from 106 to 445 students, grades developmental kindergarten through eighth. During this time The Willows has achieved a reputation as one of the pre-eminent independent schools in Los Angeles, known for its highly regarded technology program and educational innovations. Several leading national educators have recently spent time at The Willows, unanimous in their praise of the school’s creative and stimulating learning environment and its engaged, involved students. The Willows received the 2014 and 2015 Culver City Private School Award for Excellence.
In 2006, The Willows became the first school citywide to institute a cutting-edge literacy program. The innovation continues as the school enters its ninth year of looping (keeping students and teachers together for two consecutive years), proving the many successes derived from this practice. The Willows is also one of the only local, independent, co-ed schools that separates students by gender for math, best meeting the needs of both boys and girls and allowing them to reach their optimum potential. Our challenging academic program is complemented by an exemplary performing and fine arts curriculum, a full range of athletic teams, a rich and thoughtful life skills and service learning curriculum, and extra-curricular activities–all taught by dedicated faculty who are professionals in their fields. Creativity and technology are integral parts of our curriculum, designed to develop out-of-the-box thinkers. Creativity is not restricted to the arts, but fostered in every discipline. Technology, including a 1:1 laptop program in grades three through eight, is integrated seamlessly in our curriculum as an essential tool for learning. Our S.T.E.A.M. Lab, Tinker. Make. Innovate. (TMI) Lab, and Center for Teaching and Learning integrate the latest educational strategies for exploration, skill development, problem solving, and design thinking directly into our curriculum through one-on-one and small group teaching experiences.
The Willows began as a dream of community, defined intrinsically by its founders a “a sharing in common.” Now, The Willows community is ever expanding and energetic. Through the years, The Willows has grown to include not only a vigorous, committed community of students, faculty, staff, parents, grandparents and alumni but also an outreach into the larger community and around the globe. We believe that as individuals, we thrive; as a community we soar.