History and Philosophy

A Brief History of Oakwood School

In 1971, when the Oakwood School doors opened for the first day of instruction, we welcomed 1 student and 4 staff members!   That first class, with one student, was conducted in a $50.00-a-month rented Sunday School room near then-rural Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.  

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This arrangement was clearly not a sustainable model nor a prescription for success.  However, the 3 founding visionaries of Oakwood, Principals Robert & Mary McIntyre and college professor Wretha Petersen, had 75 years of combined experience having previously served as teachers, school administrators, and a college professor.

We've asked ourselves more than once, “Why would otherwise reasonably intelligent, experienced educators, with very modest personal means, take the risk of trying to start a school ‘from scratch’ with absolutely no financial backing?”  The word "naive"  may come to mind, but we prefer the words "vision" and "faith."

In 1970 the 3 Oakwood founders had been brought together by seemingly random circumstances at George Washington University and discovered that they shared a vision for a new, nurturing but stimulating learning environment for the bright child with a non-traditional  learning style.  After they tried unsuccessfully over a period of time to convince both public and private schools to take up this challenge, the strong conviction grew within them that this was, in fact, their calling.....and they had faith that it could be accomplished.  

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Though they had no money to make it happen, they did have the professional experience and unhinged passion for kids who needed another option for success in school.  Their conviction, fueled by a clear vision, stimulated necessary strategic planning and hard work.....and a new concept in education became the reality that we know as Oakwood School.

Thankfully the School grew quickly and in a relatively short time was serving students from Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

From the beginning Oakwood teachers have held university degrees in special needs education and have been licensed by the Virginia Department of Education.

Oakwood was one of the first independent schools of special education in Virginia to be licensed by the State Board of Education. 

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In 1973 Oakwood leadership led the way in organizing all Virginia non-public schools offering any kind of special needs education for students from the Commonwealth and other states.   The Executive Director of Oakwood became the founding president of the Virginia Association of Independent Special Education Facilities, which, several years later was tasked by the Virginia State Board of Education with assuming responsibility for the accreditation of all independent special education schools in the State.

In 1981 Oakwood School moved from rented facilities into its own buildings and property on Braddock Road.  In the decades since 1971, emerging research in education and neuroplasticity continues to affirm the soundness of Oakwood’s educational philosophy and its applied multisensory teaching methods.

Like its Founders, the Oakwood Philosophy of Education cannot be defined or contained by one label, so over the years we’ve tried to describe rather than label the values that have guided this school since it opened its doors on March 1, 1971.  

Simply stated: We believe each child is created with unique potential.  We believe in the power of a nurturing environment.  We believe in the strength of tradition in our values and in our teaching.  We believe in the continued pursuit of excellence and effectiveness. 

Today our vision from the past is confirmed.  Our faith for the future is strengthened.  We regularly hear from current and former students and their families, telling us how their Oakwood experience transformed young lives as their hidden potential became their new reality.   As an excited Dad once wrote about Oakwood, “The measure of our son’s success is the measure of your own.”