Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Charles Blum, Year One Alumni Parent, remembers . . .

I remember way back when the school was in its first couple weeks of existence. It was amazing how much positive energy and excitement was generated by the staff, administration, teachers, parents and students. It was like we had finally found a home.

I remember the whole school did a project for the entry wall which was an outline of each student's hand with different artistic styles. I had the privilege of taping them up on the wall as a huge tapestry. When I first put them up there were 97 student hands and the top of the picture was missing 3 more to make it look filled out and symmetrical. By a week later there were 100 hands and more as the school quickly blossomed.

I am forever grateful to Lisa Rosenstein and all those who worked tirelessly to offer an amazing opportunity for my son's Gregory and Jeffrey Blum. I never had to wake them up in the morning to go to school because they were always ready to go. It was such a gratifying feeling when they would tell me as the summer came to a close that they were looking forward to going back to school at The Willows. My heart will always be with The Willows because The Willows was always there for me and my sons.

Thank you!


Charles L. Blum, DC

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The FIRST First Day!

There was one DK class, one Kindergarten class, one First Grade class, One Second Grade class, one combined Third/Fourth Grade class, and one combined Fourth/Fifth Grade class.

In all, 92 students and 17 teachers and staff, all ready to make friends, set up routines, and get down to the serious – and fun – business of learning.

To celebrate The Willows' opening, many people sent flowers -- so many, in fact, the multi-purpose room was filled to bursting. That gave one teacher an idea. "Let's bring the kids together to draw still lifes!" she said.

It was the first of many moments at The Willows where a spontaneous idea and some improvisational collaboration would lead to an unforgettable teaching moment.

“It was incredible,” recalls Curriculum Coordinator Carol DeNardo, who was at that time one of the founding members, the 2nd Grade teacher, and a parent of a 4th Grade student. “Classical music was playing, sunlight was streaming in, and all 92 students were together in the multipurpose room sketching flowers. We all had such a feeling of accomplishment for having made the impossible happen – and such excitement about what was in store.”

Every first day of school is a day of fresh starts, new beginnings and endless possibilities . . . but that first first day of school at The Willows was something special.

The School’s founders had turned a “What if?” into reality,
setting the stage for an exciting new venture . . . and many hope-filled first days to 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.

STUDENTS! “If we build it, they will come!”

The founding families had decided that their target number was 90 – without that many students, the school simply wasn’t viable and the doors would not open. Recruiting was vital and the passion of the parents kicked in. As founding parent Gary Yale states, “What we had was the soul of the school.”

With a school site still under construction, the founders set up shop in a meeting room at what is now the W Hotel in Westwood.

Founder and parent Scott Jacks said, “The teachers for each grade set up work stations around the sides of the room. Prospective parents went from table to table, talking to the teachers about what their kids would be doing in each grade."

And then founder and parent Mark Solomon gave a pitch. Well, it was more like a plea. An eloquent plea.”“I asked these parents to make a leap of faith,” Mark Solomon said. “The first thing I tried to do was convince them that we did, in fact, have a school. I simply opened by saying, ‘We want you. We want your children.’ I was supposed to sell these families on our school, but I wasn’t really selling. I was just saying what I believed and what I felt.”

Throughout the summer, enrollment numbers crept up. 80….81….82. As a new family was added to the rolls, the founders would call each other, celebrating each new student as a victory.

“We hit 90 and then it hit us,” said Gary Yale. “It was happening.”

Despite doubts from all corners, building, teachers, and students were finally ready!

On Monday, September 19, the doors of The Willows Community School opened.

Lisa's mother applauded, "You have turned lemons into lemonade!"

Watch for the next blog entry:
"The FIRST first day of school!!"
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

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