I recently toured Friends Western School in Pasadena, spending a morning with the leadership of this small, very unique Transitional Kindergarten-5th school. Below is my Q&A with Leilani Brooks, dean of students at Friends Western. Leilani holds a B.A. in Theater from UCLA with a focus on Arts Bridge Education. During 10 years at Disney, she performed in numerous stage shows and managed productions and events before transitioning into teaching. Leilani is outgoing and vibrant with a passion for creativity and a love of kids and teaching. I also met parents and teachers at the school who, along with the kids, were gracious and proud to show visitors their school.–Christina
Q: Friends Western School is truly one-of-a-kind because although it was founded in 2001, in 2010 it became the very first parent-run cooperative and the first Quaker co-op in the U.S. Can you talk a bit about how the co-op works on a given day, week or month? What role do parents play and how are decisions made?
A: While the faculty at Friends Western School are all highly qualified, experienced teachers, parents play important roles in the support and administration of the school. Parents work on committees to oversee things like admissions, marketing, and community life.
On a daily basis, parents will take playground shifts during lunch and recess, or be a chaperone on a field trip or hike. (Parents who can’t participate in co-op work, have an option each term to buy out of those duties.) This involvement in the daily life of the school creates a rich sense of community among both parents and children.
Parents also serve on the Board of Directors, which helps guide the school. Some decisions are made by the Board, others are voted on by the entire school in our monthly membership meetings. Decisions about the classroom, however, are made by faculty.
There are a few other cooperative elementaries in the US, but we are the only one in the Los Angeles area. Being part of the school is being part of a small but vibrant community, and the experience stays with students long after they leave.
Q: How would you describe the unique educational philosophy of the school?
A: We believe in the ‘whole child’ approach to education. Although all of our curriculum fulfills the common core standards, our highly educated teachers and small class size allows our staff to create