In a word, transformational. Going from really disliking school in general to really wanting to go to school in such a short period of time has been amazing. School used to be something that was stressful previously. Bullying seemed to be all around. Teachers seemed to care more about themselves and their status than they did about the kids. The nature of the relationships between the faculty, administrative staff and students at WillowWood is peer to peer in nature. Respect is demonstrated by and expected of all. Teachers really care and all appear to be highly skilled. Rather that wondering which teacher will be an issue, I have confidence in the faculty and the administration.
They really truly get kids. The leadership at WW is outstanding. They are highly skilled, always looking to improve and are humble. A great combination. They handle the small stuff quickly and effectively. Bigger issues are dealt with in a highly respectful, objective and judicious manner. Communication with us has been role model. At WillowWood the fundamentals helping kids learn the way they best learn appeared to be baked into the entire culture.
The level of engagement by the teachers at WillowWood is extraordinary. They expect a great deal of themselves as well as the students. They know their subject matter and how to get the most out of the students. Feedback is timely, always constructive and well considered. Innovative teaching techniques are quite evident. Parent teacher meetings are similarly highly constructive and engaging. You come away knowing exactly how you can help as well as what is going well and could be better. One of the teachers uses a flipped classroom approach whereby the students listen to the lecture at home as homework and the in class time is devoted to subject matter exploration, interpretation and discussion. Every teacher we met seemed to genuinely - care. Wow.
Post-secondary life is a continual focus at WillowWood. So much seems to be geared around getting the students prepared and really ready to go beyond the school and into the real world. At Willowwood it is not a question if they will successfully progress beyond the school, it is all about how they will do so and how exciting that will be. Many kids struggle when it comes to preparing for exams. From day one at WillowWood they take this super seriously. They almost over-prepare for exams and other things that normally would just get thrown at the students as an expectation. They help the students create then build in work practices that will set them up for success not only for exams but for life moving forward.
In our first year we were quite impressed with the nature and frequency of extracurricular activities at WillowWood. There is always something coming up. The diversity and frequency of these activities is quite appealing. The longer school trips always seem exciting. They really do manage the trips well.
No question this is a small school where people get to know each other quite well. Interactions seem normal. "WillowWooders" seem to feel quite proud to distinguish themselves from others. The feeling is more casual than what we expected with everyone being on a first name basis. While this took me back a bit at first, they have found a way at WillowWood to really make it work. Now I see this as a best practice in education. I would like to see a few more opportunities for the students to get to know each other better perhaps by using team building types of activities. When you don't live at all close to the school it is harder for the students to maintain friendships outside of school hours.
The approach to admissions was excellent. After getting a full tour of the school, looking into some classrooms and speaking with some of the teachers, we stopped, summarized, then discussed all the costs. Key fundamentals of expectations not just of the students but of everyone at the school were discussed. Then they suggested that we just "drop him off for half a day and we will assess the fit for him and for us". While I was worried how he would do with this approach we were reassured that they have this down to a science. Later in the day when we picked him up and i asked how did it go, I will never forget his reaction to the WillowWood process: "I really, really want to go to this school!"
The school is located on a relatively quiet street along with four other private schools. There is a great deal of light industry on the street as well. While they are relatively isolated which is likely a good thing, there is a small mall nearby where the students can walk to but it does not appear to be a destination or local hang out for the students. Again, that's a good thing.
Our son loves going to WillowWood. The teachers, they way he's treated and what they do together all really resonates with him. Class sizes are well optimized - not too big, not too small. There is no question we think this a a fantastic school If there is an opportunity for improvement it is that it does take a full year to really get the school's procedures, contacts, events, opportunities timing etc all figured out. There are many clubs that are offered at the school While finding out about all of them can be a challenge the ones I know of are well run, enjoyable and successful. Everyone is encouraged to participate.
With students coming from all over, there is a bit less of a sense of parent community. This may be in part be due to my inability to attend certain key events due to my work schedule. That said, the school's Parent Council is effective. The parents that participate on a regular basis while being diverse in their thinking all have great care for their kids and the school's success. There is a good team feeling rather than an us and them atmosphere. The council has an appropriate level of influence. I do feel that my involvement has offered us an advantage compared to other families at the school especially in the first year. I learned a great deal from my participation that I would not have otherwise.