Lisa Rosenstein is the Founding Head of The Willows Community School, an independent, co-educational Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade school in Culver City. Ms. Rosenstein, who has more than 40 years’ experience in the educational field, spearheaded the development of The Willows from 90 students in a single building to 445 students on a six building campus and national recognition in the progressive educational field. She is also considered a leader in community education serving on numerous boards, chairing school accreditation teams for the California Association of Independent Schools, and leading a thriving parent education program, speaker series and professional development model at The Willows. We sat down with Ms. Rosenstein to discuss what sets The Willows apart, what it means to be a leader and how increased understanding helps International Women’s Day have a bigger impact.
"Leadership means moving a vision forward, taking an idea and bringing it to fruition–and working with others to move the idea forward"
Creativity and critical thinking skills engage students in learning, capture their curiosity and ignite their passions. If you block a child’s natural curiosity, you stifle learning and ultimately, success.
The Willows’ curriculum is certainly unique. What can other schools learn from it?
The Willows’ curriculum can inspire other schools to be open, reflective and flexible. Curriculum requires teacher talent and wisdom. A curriculum is only as meaningful as its teachers. Teacher engagement with the curriculum is key.
What is your advice to parents who want to help their children discover their unique talents?
My best advice is for a parent to recognize that their child is their own person—what might be the parent’s interest is not necessarily the child’s interest. A parent must also be open to all the child’s interests and provide encouragement.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your career so far?
The most rewarding part of my career has been touching children’s lives and seeing how students are developing into confident adults interested in the world and desiring to give back. A highlight of my career is the ability to be creative and to create a school culture and environment that inspires children. It is truly gratifying to see how the wonder of learning takes place. The founding of this school was a great privilege.
Many believe part of being a leader is helping those less fortunate. How do you help support your community and its constituents?
“Community” is the culture of our school—not just part of our name, but the very heart and soul of our school. To me, the best way to support our community is by creating a safe place for children to learn and to develop strong relationships with all the members of our community. The Willows is a place where there is a strong feeling of trust, openness, and inclusivity.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “pledge for parity,” encouraging men and women to help accelerate gender equality. What do you think is the most important action people can take to support gender equality?
I think “understanding” is fundamental to supporting gender equality. People need to gain and deepen their understanding of each other; they have to attain a perspective of the other individual’s experience and the expectations that are placed upon both genders. For example, if a woman is strong, she may be seen as aggressive, while in a man, this is considered as strength. Our work with our students and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence is helping the next generation gain greater empathy, as well as understanding and insight into themselves and others.
Who has been your most impactful mentor and why?
My parents and my Aunt Miriam were my mentors. My father discussed business with me and would ask me for my point of view, which provided me with a sense of confidence. My mother and her sisters were accomplished and strong women. In particular, my Aunt Miriam is an excellent listener and problem solver. I have always admired her leadership within our family and the Columbus, Ohio community.
What do you think will change for women over the next 10 years?
I hope for both women and men that there will be greater gender equality.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing instead?
It’s hard for me to imagine a different career. I find my work so meaningful and gratifying. I feel so fortunate to have found my calling.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership means moving a vision forward, taking an idea and bringing it to fruition—and working with others to move the idea forward. It is a responsibility.