Named for a grove of willow trees that populated the area, the original Willowdale District #45 was organized in 1876. The one-room school stood on the southwest corner of what is now 168th and Q Streets. That original school building was purchased by farmer, John Siert, who attended the school. Mr. Siert moved it to 180th and Q to be placed on his family's popcorn farm.
The second school building was built, complete with a basement. Members of John Siert's family attended this 'new' Willowdale. At recess students continued the tradition of climbing the historical cottonwood tree that stood tall on the corner of the property until 2012. A section of this cottonwood is displayed in the present Willowdale memory case. Willowdale District #45 merged with other rural districts and eventually Millard in 1957.
The present Willowdale Elementary was built on the northwest corner of 168th and Q in 1992, and Jerry Denkinger served as the principal. When school started that year, the building was not completed so students attended class at four different locations. Over winter break parents and students worked together to move the classrooms to the newly finished building which officially opened in January 1993. Mrs. Susan Kelley became principal in 2002 and retired in 2016. Mrs. Amanda Hunt is the current administrator.
Here are some highlights and trivia from Willowdale’s 20+ years:
•In October of 2003, the Outdoor Learning Environment was dedicated by the mayor’s office.
•A parent-led playground equipment update took place in May of 2004 followed by another parent-led project to update our field in the spring of 2005.
•Willowdale has been a technology leader over the years.
~The first podcast was done in 2005, one of the first in the country. These podcasts were featured on iTunes top podcasts through 2007.
~Willowdale’s website, WillowWeb, was recognized in such publications as The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Scholastic Administrator Magazine.
•Willowdale is one of six cluster EL sites in the district. At one time up to 15 languages and 24 countries were represented in our student population.
•Willowdale has been recognized for its leadership in the High Ability Learner (HAL) program.
A line from the program of Willowdale’s 20th Anniversary celebration, sums up our past and present: “Despite dramatic differences between the old and new, similarities exist. Former teachers said the students and their families valued education and supported their school in many ways.” That tradition has not changed. Willowdale is successful because of that continued commitment by parents, staff and community. "ONCE A WILDCAT, ALWAYS A WILDCAT."