Founded by Parents

In the beginning, a small group of parents decided to create a school where their children could flourish as thinkers, as artists, as athletes, and most of all, as human beings.
By the fall of 1951, the school they had named Oakwood opened in Jessica and Robert Ryan's backyard. Three years later, those pioneering parents, including the Ryans, Sidney Harmon and Elizabeth Schappert, Wendy and Ross Cabeen, and Charles and Emilie Haas bought and built the elementary school campus on Moorpark Street.

Since then Oakwood has grown to become a K-12 coeducational independent day school on two campuses, where young people prosper in thought and imagination, as individuals and as members of a school community.


List of 3 items.

  • The First Backyard

    Oakwood began in the hearts and minds of a small group of parents who had three things in common: 1) one or more of their children attended the same nursery school; 2) they were equally disturbed by post-war overcrowding in the public schools; and 3) they disagreed about almost everything else!

    At the suggestion of her pediatrician that she "do something - start your own school!" - Jessica (and Robert) Ryan hosted several meetings at their North Hollywood home, in the spring of 1950. At those meetings with Emilie and Charles Haas, Elizabeth and Sidney Harmon, and Wendy and Ross Cabeen, it was decided to open their school the following fall in the Ryan's backyard. Shortly thereafter, they moved to an abandoned religious building on Chandler Boulevard, under the direction of a gifted Quaker educator, Bryson Gerard. Mr. Gerard's educational philosophy appealed to these founding parents, who had rich and happy memories of their own progressive educations.
  • The Elementary School

    In 1951, Oakwood purchased its present elementary campus with personal guarantees from Robert Ryan, Sydney Harmon and Ross Cabeen. Those early years were pretty rough and in the spring of 1954 the founders had voted to give the school away. But they decided to give it one more try and Elizabeth Harmon departed for the east coast in search of a new director. As fate would have it, Marie Spottswood, then Director of New York's Ethical Culture Fieldston School, was looking for a change. It was Miss Spottswood who gave Oakwood the special and innovative character of its humanities curriculum, teaching methods and administration. She imparted to students, teachers and parents her passion for education centered on the needs of the individual.

    During the next decade, under Miss Spottswood's excellent stewardship, Oakwood became known throughout Southern California as a center for fine elementary education. Along with Marie Spottswood's progressive teaching methods, alums from the earliest years also fondly recall Mabel Pratt's freshly baked cornbread and Virgie Van Bark's daily tolling of the school bell. After five decades, that bell is still rung each day at the elementary school. But, as happy as they were with Oakwood, it soon became evident to the parents they wanted more. They strongly felt the need for a secondary school with the same educational philosophies.
  • The Secondary School Expansion

    In the winter of 1964, an Agoura summer camp became available and, that fall, Oakwood opened its secondary campus: a humanistic, college preparatory day school, grades 7 through 9; the assumption being that one grade would be added each year should the school prove a success. To head this new campus, Marie Spottswood hired Hamlin Smith, from Chicago's North Shore Country Day School. Ham gave the school its moral emphasis, its accent on the arts, and its quality as a "learning community" where individual teacher-student exchange was a constant and enriching process. A tenth grade was added in 1965, an eleventh in 1966 and a twelfth in 1967. 

    In 1967, after Oakwood outgrew its Agoura Campus, founding parent Elizabeth Harmon Schappert generously donated the down payment for our current Magnolia property. A bronze plaque dedicating this campus to her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Max Wallerstein, stands outside the library. Over the years that followed, many improvements have enhanced both campuses. Learning became a matter of educating the heart and hand, as well as the mind, just as the founders originally intended.