Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Share Your Memories!

A “Can-Do” Spirit
“How will you ever open on time?”

Date: September 17, 1994.

Location: The Shell of an Old Warehouse on Higuera Street in Culver City.

The Scene: The cavernous space is filled with contractors working against the clock. Teachers unpack boxes overflowing with school supplies. Carpenters, painters, and custodians rush to lay floors, paint walls, put up shelves. Opening day at The Willows Community School is just two days away.

Lisa Rosenstein’s mother surveys the old warehouse and states emphatically, “How will you ever open on time?”

Lisa’s reply? “We have to,” she says. We have no choice.”

The “can-do spirit” of The Willows is born!

In February, 1994, Lisa found herself at what appeared to be a dead end – the school where she worked had fallen apart. But, when a group of families approached Lisa with the idea of creating a new school, disaster turned into possibility, and an incredible adventure began.

This group evolved into the founding families of The Willows. They shared an unshakable faith in Lisa Rosenstein, a determination to never take no for an answer, and a vision of a nurturing, innovative school where their kids could learn and grow.

No School site! No Students! Only 8 months to pull it all together! The founders had their work cut out for them.

Founder and former Board Co-Chair Scott Jacks remembers the urgency that he felt. “I was certainly anxious at the beginning. Everything fell apart at the other school in February. The timing was dreadful because we were too late to apply to any private school. Our only choices were public schools, and for most of us, those weren’t choices at all. We were in a bind.”

“There were sleepless nights, but we never thought it wasn’t going to happen. We believed,” recalls founder Leah Bishop. “There was an incredible sense of community. Each little triumph was an amazing experience, a huge victory. We reached out to every foundation we could think of and asked them for money. We were in Hawaii with two other founding families and we got a phone call. We’d gotten a grant from a foundation and we were going to be able to buy books and bookshelves. We were going to have a library! A couple of weeks later I sat with a whole group of families alphabetizing books and making index cards. We didn’t know anything about creating a library but we did the best we could. Everybody just pitched in.”

Everything began to come together when founding member Lou Gonda called with good news. He and Ellen Cohen, another founding member, had found a building for the school – an old warehouse in what was then a very quiet corner of Culver City. With plenty of space and reasonable rent, it was just what they needed. The building transformation began!

As for teachers and curriculum, Lisa brought with her a core group of dedicated and experienced faculty members with a shared educational philosophy. “Lisa’s optimism just carried the day,” remembers Scott Jacks. “She was this force. We’d follow her anywhere.”

Now all they needed were the students!

Watch for the next blog entry coming soon:
"If We Build It, They Will Come!!!"

Please join us in sharing your stories and reactions to the first days at The Willows. Send any photos or artwork to ssleeper@thewillows.org

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