Willow Public School Launches

Three years after authorization, Walla Walla’s First Charter Public School Welcomes Students

Walla Walla – Today marks the first day of school for Willow Public School, with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade “founders” entering the brand new charter public school’s doors with much excitement. Since being authorized by the Washington State Charter School Commission in 2015, founder and executive director Daniel Calzaretta and his design team have developed a rigorous and innovative curriculum, gathered input from the community through community meetings conducted in both English and Spanish, and secured a facility for Willow to call home. Three years of preparation and hard work culminated in the school’s grand opening this morning.

Willow is a “homegrown” charter public school that has garnered statewide and national support. Calzaretta was granted a fellowship through the WA Charters school incubator. Willow is also awarded a spot in the prestigious New Schools Venture Fund’s 2017 Invent Cohort.   

Calzaretta is an experienced educator with over 28 years in field​. He spent eight years as a teacher in Walla Walla Public Schools and founded the award-winning Pacific Crest Community School in Portland, Oregon.

“We believe wholeheartedly in Willow, and are thrilled that after much anticipation, Walla Walla families are benefitting from this additional public school option in their community,” said WA Charters’ CEO Patrick D’Amelio.

Willow is founded on a data-driven, innovative model rooted in cultural responsiveness. Willow provides personalized, project-based learning for all students, with a focus on increasing systemically underserved students access to high-quality public school option. Like all Washington state charter public schools, Willow is free, public, and open to all. Technology, creativity, collaboration, and an emphasis on personal responsibility are all highlights of its program—which aims to prepare students for success during high school, college, and a career.

But just what does this look like in practice?

The school’s 20 staff members begin and end each day with “circle time” to check in with each other. Students – or “scholars” as they are known at Willow – enjoy cooked-from-scratch breakfast and lunch prepared with local food and vegetables. The school day is two hours longer than the typical school day at a traditional public school; classes begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Each day closes with an hour of activities such as martial arts, music production, and photography.

And the learning doesn’t stop when Willow scholars leave the classroom. Curriculum also includes practical “adulting” skills through things like serving meals on rotation and learning how to ride the bus if they are unable to walk to school. This is augmented by opportunities to volunteer in their own communities.

“For our scholars to be successful in the classroom and in the future, Willow has to be a true neighborhood school,” said Calzaretta. “We need to understand and respond to the unique needs of this community—and the way to do that is to build real relationships and ties with the community members.”

This focus on community will foster partnerships with parents, businesses, social services organizations. The school has a Director of Culture, Katie Christianson, who focuses on building community relationships, promoting social and emotional learning, and implementing a restorative approach to discipline. There is also a social worker and two community outreach specialists on staff.  

“When it comes to education, one size doesn’t fit all which is why Willow will address the specific needs of its students,” Calzaretta said.

Willow Public Schools is located at 425 W.  Alder Street near the Washington Park, Edith and Carrie, Jefferson Park, and Blueridge neighborhoods at the site of the former St. Patrick Grade School.

Enrollment is  still open. For more information, visit https://www.willowps.org/.

Read more about Willow Public School on the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin here or here.

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