Willow Wood Students Learn Through Play

Over the past 47 years, Willow Wood has been Winnetka's leading play-based preschool.  Our teaching philosophy is that kids learn problem-solving and other life skills by playing together with their peers and teachers.  Moreover, our guided curriculum instills confidence and independence in our students.  Willow Wood teachers are exceptionally qualified to guide students in this curriculum because they have an impressive background in early childhood education. 

Our Teachers and Faculty

Our dedicated faculty and teachers have an impressive combination of early childhood experience.  In fact, all of our teachers hold a masters degree in an early childhood field.  We encourage our teachers and aides to stay on the cutting edge of our field through continuing education.  In addition, we retain the services of early childhood experts and consultants for periodic classroom observation.  The combined efforts of our faculty and consultants ensure that our unique play-based curriculum is innovative and successful.  

Sue Cornello

Sue Cornelo


Parent Tot, Parent Tot Transition

Phone:  (847)-441-6393

Education: University of Iowa, B.A. in Elementary Education, minor in Early Childhood Education; National Louis University, M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction

Background: Sue obtained a B.A. Degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Early Childhood Education from the University of Iowa and a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University.  She taught 3rd grade for eight years (1987-1995) in Lake County before taking time off to raise her two children.  Sue joined the Willow Wood staff in 2002.  She taught the PM JK class for 13 years, served as Assistant Director, Camp Director and is currently the Director and teaches the Parent/Tot classes.  Sue enjoys reading, knitting, walks to the beach, yoga and cheering for her beloved Chicago Cubs!

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Amy Acri

JK AM, Lunch Bunch

Education: Stanford University, B.A. in Human Biology, concentration in Childhood Development; Northwestern University, MBA, major in Marketing

Background: Amy began her love of early childhood education while studying child development and teaching at a pre-school on the Stanford campus. After a 13-year career in marketing and computer systems development, Amy stayed home to raise her triplet daughters, former Willow Wood students! During those years she spent her time on the PTA, volunteering at school, and creating a home-based baking business, Love at First Bite. Over the last 8 years, Amy taught First Grade and Kindergarten at Hubbard Woods School. She is thrilled to be at Willow Wood and now spends her free time with her husband Jim walking, visiting their daughters, cooking, baking, and reading.

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Jennifer Beckmann

3’s AM (aide)

Education: William Woods College, B.A. in Fashion Merchandising

Background: Jennifer has been a stay at home mom for the past 23 years to her three kids. She volunteered in her children's preschools/schools and began substituting in 2006 at the Winnetka Community Nursery School when her youngest started 1st grade. She enjoys reading, needlepoint, walking with her dogs, and spending time with her family and friends.

Isabel Fiore

Young 2's (aide)

Education: Northwestern University, B.A. & MSEd

Background: Isabel’s been involved in virtually all aspects of education. She’s been an aide, a sub, a teacher, a volunteer, and a board member; she’s worked in online educational content and textbook publishing; and she’s a parent of two (one in elementary school; the other in high school). Both kids attended Willow Wood, so Isabel is particularly excited to get back into the school “where it all began” for her children.


Kendra Gallagher

Older 3's / Young 4's (aide), Lunch Bunch, Food For Thought,
Wonder Games

Education: University of Colorado, B.A. in Political Science; Northwestern University School of Law, J.D.

Background: Kendra has been home with her 5 children for the past 25 years.  She was an active volunteer in various schools and sports.  She continues her commitments to several charitable organizations.  She enjoys reading, walking and spending time with her family.

Catherine Levy

Older 3's / Young 4's, Lunch Bunch, Hola and Bonjour, Wonder Kids

Education: University of Illinois at Chicago, B.A. English, University of Illinois at Chicago, M.Ed in Elementary Education 

Background: After receiving her masters degree in 1989, Catherine worked as a permanent substitute in Skokie for 6 months and then taught  for Evanston School District 65 at Washington School for 4 years. She taught 1st and 2nd grade.  While staying home with her three children she's served on the PTA, numerous committees and  taught/led the nursery and elementary education program at her congregation.  In her free time Catherine enjoys reading, biking and traveling with her family. 

Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith

Older 3's / Young 4's, Lunch Bunch, Food For Thought, Wonder Kids

Education: University of Iowa, Master’s Degree in Social Work

Background: Jenny worked for over a decade in healthcare before beginning to teach preschool in Atlanta where she and her husband had their four children.  She found that she loved teaching young children much more than working in hospitals!  In her free time Jenny enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, running, singing in her church choir, gardening, cooking and reading.

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Dawn Stanek


Education: Loyola University, B.S. in Psychology; University of Illinois Chicago, Professional Educator License, Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education, Special Ed Endorsement; Dominican University, English as a Second Language Endorsement

Background: Dawn comes to Willow Wood as part of our partnership with NSSED (North Shore Special Education District). She has been teaching preschool for over eighteen years, and has experience working with children of varying needs. In her free time, Dawn enjoys going for walks with her husband and son, practicing yoga, and reading.


Sonja Klevenow-Anderson


Education: DePaul University, B.A. in Human Development

Background: Sonja has taught preschool for the Glencoe Park District for over 10 years. She also lives in Glencoe where she raised her three sons and coddled their three-legged dog. Her youngest son and the dog still live at home. In addition to teaching preschool, her past work life includes working in advertising as a copywriter and as a realtor. Currently, she occasionally acts as a sous chef/recipe tester for a good friend who writes for the Chicago Tribune's Dining Section. In her free time, cooking, dining out, and reading are her top three passions!

Elizabeth Clemmitt

Elizabeth Clemmitt


Education: Colorado College, B.A. Degree in Music; Westminster Choir College, Masters of Music in Music Education.

Background: Prior to teaching at Willow Wood, Elizabeth taught general music in the Glenview public schools (K-6).  She is the music teacher at Ronald Knox Montessori School and she leads the Primary Choir for children in first and second grades at Christ Church, Winnetka. Her two sons both attended Willow Wood.


Katie Fitzpatrick


Education: Denison University, B.A. In English; Lesley University, M.Ed. In Elementary Education

Background: Katie taught elementary school in Chicago, Boston and North Carolina before staying home with her three children who all attended Hubbard Woods. Her oldest is starting his freshman year at Colgate and she has a son and daughter at New Trier.  In her free time, Katie enjoys spending time with her children and friends, traveling and reading.

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Lauren LeBoyer

Older 2's (3 Day)

Education: University of Michigan, B.A. Psychology

Background: Lauren graduated Michigan with a degree in Psychology and an interest in developmental psychology. She pursued a career in non-profit management with a focus on agencies serving youth through mentoring and reading initiatives. Lauren served as Board President while her two children attended Willow Wood and continued to serve on the Hubbard Woods School PTO board. In her free time, Lauren enjoys paddle boarding at the beach, reading good books, exercising and taking long walks with her dog.


Cindy Ritchell

Coley Patterson


Education: Lehigh University, B.A. in History and Masters in Elementary Education

Background: For the past three years, Coley has worked and lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Each year, she taught reading, writing, grammar, phonics, and social studies to second and third grade students. While Coley loved her time as an elementary school teacher, she is excited to return to Willow
Wood. She has spent multiple summers working at the Willow Wood summer camp, and is a Willow Wood Preschool graduate herself! In her free time, she loves spending time with family and friends, golfing, hiking, and reading.

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Shannon Spencer

Young 2's, 3’s AM, Lunch Bunch, Hola and Bonjour

Education: Franklin & Marshall College, B.A. in French; National Louis University, M.A. in Teaching; Franciscan University, M.A. in Theology

Background: Shannon's experience in teaching is diverse, including substitute teaching, working as a school librarian, and 8+ years as a Sunday School teacher.  In addition, Shannon has volunteered extensively at her children's schools.  She has four children all of whom attended Willow Wood.  In her free time, Shannon enjoys spending time with family, cooking, gardening, and traveling.


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 Courtney Thomas

Office Assistant

Education: University of Arizona, Bachelors in Psychology and Minor in Youth Development 

Background: Courtney has been teaching preschool cumulatively for 5 years, both in Deerfield, IL and also Scottsdale, AZ.  She worked at Willow Wood Summer Camp for quite a few summers when she was in high school and college and is very happy to be returning after many years! She has a strong passion for children and loves watching them grow and develop. In her free time she enjoys cooking and spending time with her friends and family, especially her newest little nephew.


Sandy Thomas

Older 2's (2 day)

Education: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. BA in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education. Certification in Birth-6 years and K-9. Early Childhood Credential-Level 5

Background: Sandy has been teaching preschool for 35+ years mostly in Wilmette and Winnetka. Sandy taught for 7 years at Willow Wood in early 2000 and is happy to be back! Storytelling, and creating invitations to play are some of Sandy’s passions in the classroom. Sandy and her husband Gary have two grown children, and two small grandsons that they love babysitting. In her free time, she likes to read, walk and spend time with family and friends.


Laurie Van Dusen

3’s AM, Young 2’s

Education: Albion College, BA in English; National Louis University, Masters of Art in Teaching Elementary Education

Background: Laurie taught elementary school in Chicago before staying home with her four children. Her oldest, twins, are in college, and she has one at The Skokie School, and one at Washburne. She enjoys spending time with family, friends, volunteering, walking her dog, and traveling, in her free time.

Willow Wood at a Glance

Beginnings: In 1967, a group of Kenilworth women founded our school, originally named the Kenilworth Community Preschool.  They opened our doors to 25 students at the Church of the Holy Comforter.  In 1971, we moved to the Winnetka Presbyterian Church.  As it was no longer located in Kenilworth, we selected a new name, the Willow Wood Preschool. With the help of our dedicated board, we moved to our current location in 1998.

Director: Sue Cornelo

Governance: Willow Wood is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-discriminatory organization that is governed by a board of directors.

Staff: We have a staff of 13, including a music consultant.  All of our teachers hold an advanced degree.   

Curriculum: Our program is play-based.  We provide a safe, secure atmosphere for children to learn through exploring, creating and problem solving.  

Music: Weekly music classes introduce students to the joys of singing, rhythm instruments, movement and music patterns.

Enrichment: We offer lunch bunch and after-school enrichment programs for our 3- and 4-year-old students.

Special Needs: Children with special needs are welcome at Willow Wood.  Should your child required additional classroom assistance, please contact us.    

Summer Camp: We offer a six-week summer camp for 3- and 4-year-old students.

Financial Aid:   We offer assistance to families based on demonstrated need.

Non-Discrimination: In the administration of educational policies, admission, financial aid or any other school-administered programs, Willow Wood does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

License: Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Accreditation: National Academy of Early Childhood Programs and National Association for Education of Young Children (“NAEYC”)

Member: NAEYC, Chicago Association of Education of Young Children, and Winnetka Alliance for Early Childhood.  

Discipline Policy

Willow Wood employs a positive discipline strategy to encourage self-awareness and a sense of community in our students.  To achieve this end, we never resort to physical punishment.  Rather, we use our words to enforce three basic guidelines:

  1. Do not harm other children or adults

  2. Do not harm yourself

  3. Do not harm toys or equipment.

If a student does not observe these guidelines, we help him understand that his behavior is unacceptable by talking with him in a friendly, but firm, manner.  Should the behavior continue, we give the student quiet time to help him calm down and internalize the importance of our guidelines to the community.  Through this process, we teach our students how to become part of the problem-solving process.

When a student frequently requires disciplinary attention, we meet with his family to discuss the situation.  On occasion, we will coordinate classroom observation of the student by a child development consultant.  Such observation frequently leads to advice and specific steps for improvement.  Afterwards, we work closely with the consultant and family to implement these steps in the classroom and at home.

Willow Wood reserves the right to request withdrawal if a student's behavior interferes with his learning or social development.