ANSWERED PRAYERS AND UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES
Jeff Woodcock '72, headmaster of Oaks Christin School in Westlake Village, Calif., prepares for a TV interview. Photo courtesy of Jeff Woodcock.
by Hohna Hartley
June 15, 2009
Nine years ago Oaks Christian School opened its doors with Cedarville alum Jeff Woodcock ’72 at the helm as headmaster. With plenty of experience behind him, Woodcock was more than willing to step out in faith as the leader of a brand new school.
Oaks Christian School began as the dream of David and Dallas Price, who wanted their grandchildren to have a Christian high school to attend. After providing the right place in Westlake Village, California, God led them to the right people — including Woodcock. By the time the Prices began looking for a headmaster, he was more than qualified to step into the position.
Woodcock started by developing the direction and mission of the school and putting staff in place. Then, in the fall of 2000, the school opened its doors with 198 students in sixth, ninth, and tenth grades.
Word Gets Around
According to Woodcock, what makes Oaks stand out among Christian schools is its determination to pursue academic, athletic, and artistic excellence at a level on par with independent/college-preparatory schools across the country while equipping students with a Christ-centered worldview.
“There are not many schools in the Christian school world that are like us,” says Woodcock. “There are some, but we’re pretty unique.”
Because of the generosity of the school’s founders, the Oaks campus features a nine-lane all-weather track, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and ball fields with artificial turf. Consequently, Oaks drew attention before the school even opened when publications like the Los Angeles Times began talking about the extraordinary facilities, leading many students to apply with athletics in mind.
Still, though Woodcock has no intention of turning Oaks into an athletic “powerhouse,” there’s no denying the school has had a good amount of athletic success. After the football team won the state championship a few years ago, players went on to Division I colleges around the country. One even became the quarterback at Notre Dame University.
“We’ve had extraordinary success in placing kids nationally,” Woodcock says, “and that’s given us a lot of publicity.”
In the past year, some of Oaks’ publicity has centered on the children from well-known families enrolled at the school. For instance, ESPN highlighted the fact that the sons of Wayne Gretsky, Joe Montana, and Will Smith attend Oaks and play football there.
Prepared for Influence
Though the Hollywood hype has drawn public attention and afforded the school some interesting opportunities, Woodcock remains focused on his goals: educational excellence and helping students experience the love of Jesus Christ through the school’s teachers and programs.
In fact, a number of parents and students have turned to faith in Christ as a result of their experiences at Oaks. Woodcock primarily attributes this to the willingness of teachers to invest in the lives of their students simply by relating to them and showing them God’s love. Woodcock describes his teachers as “role models who love kids and love the Lord.”
One of those teachers is Garett Freeman ’00, who started at Oaks in the fall of 2008 teaching middle school world history. In his brief time at the school, he has come to recognize the unique position Oaks has in the community, particularly in regard to sharing the Gospel with nonbelievers.
Freeman takes his opportunities to communicate biblical truth to heart, adding that Cedarville helped prepare him to make the most of his ministry as a teacher. “Having a sound biblical doctrine instilled in you is priceless,” he says. “I have used that in so many places in my life.”
In further affirming Cedarville’s influence, Woodcock recalls how the University challenged him to think through his beliefs. “I was drawn to the professors who were strong academically but really had it together spiritually,” says Woodcock. “I could see that faith was not separate from intellectualism, and that was a huge thing for me at Cedarville.”
Today, both Woodcock and Freeman use the academic and biblical foundation they gained at Cedarville to influence the future generations walking the halls of Oaks Christian School — and the opportunities continue to multiply. The original group of 198 students has grown to an anticipated enrollment of more than 1,100 for this fall.
Woodcock realizes he and his faculty have a significant opportunity to provide guidance and truth to their students. At the same time, he is careful not to paint a false picture of life at Oaks. His students are as susceptible to making wrong decisions with harmful consequences as their peers at other schools. Nonetheless, he is committed to making Oaks a place of positive Christian influence. “We can be a voice among the many voices they hear,” Woodcock says, “and they’re certainly hearing a lot in the culture.”
As part of their spiritual preparation, students at Oaks Christian are required to take Bible classes and attend chapel. Also, the school sends 250–300 students on international missions and service trips each year. Some are simply meant to guide them into service, while others are designed to help them serve and share the Gospel, but both enable young people from Oaks to meet the needs of others. Students have served in countries such as China, Guatemala, and Africa.
For a school with such a brief history, Oaks is making a considerable mark on communities far beyond Westlake Village, California. Looking back, it’s clear God had a plan to coordinate the dreams and prayers of His people, to His glory. Since then, Oaks Christian School continues to grow. And Cedarville alums Jeff Woodcock and Garett Freeman are grateful for the chance to use their talents and faith to point students toward excellence in education and a life-changing belief in Jesus Christ.