Willow Oak School Now Has a Principal and Mascot; Plans for Early Childhood Learning Center Announced

Willow Oak School Now Has a Principal and Mascot; Plans for Early Childhood Learning Center Announced

Rendering of Willow Oak Elementary

Polk County Public Schools’ new elementary school now has a principal, a mascot, and an exciting addition: a dedicated early childhood learning center.

Willow Oak School, located at 4815 Bailey Road in Mulberry, will open at the start of the 2021-22 school year. The 127,000-square-foot school will have capacity for approximately 1,000 students. The cost is $34 million.

Willow Oak will serve the existing student population at Kingsford Elementary and provide enrollment relief to James W. Sikes and R. Bruce Wagner elementary schools. Kingsford, built in 1962, has no room left for expansion and is need of major renovations; it could be modernized or repurposed in the future.

Here’s a look at some of the most recent Willow Oak developments:

  • Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has appointed Acting Chief Academic Officer Michelle Townley — a native of the Mulberry area — as principal of Willow Oak. In an announcement Townley sent to school district leadership earlier this week, she wrote: “I am incredibly thankful to Superintendent Byrd for honoring my request to serve as the principal … After much thought, consideration, and discussion with my family, this position best suits my commitments at this time in my life. Having the chance to open a brand-new school has long been a dream of mine. When I couple this dream with the opportunity to serve the community in which I grew up, I cannot help but feel it will be one of the greatest honors of my career.”
Headshot of Michelle Townley

Michelle Townley


  • The school’s mascot will be the Blue Jay. In November, the school’s naming committee (comprised of district and community leaders, as well as teachers and staff members from Kingsford) were asked to submit ideas for the school mascot. Suggestions included the Owls, Acorns, and Wildcats. In December, Townley and Kingsford Elementary Assistant Principal Amy Santangelo met with a group of approximately 15 fourth-grade leaders to narrow the suggestions. That process resulted in two possibilities: the Owls and the Blue Jays. The mascot decision was then put to a schoolwide vote, with the Blue Jay prevailing 53 to 47 percent.


  • In December, Townley and Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Angela Usher gave a joint presentation to the Polk County School Board on the early childhood learning center that will be constructed on the Willow Oak campus. The free-standing, 8,500-square-foot facility will be comprised of four classrooms, one multipurpose area, administrative offices and a dedicated playground. It will be built at a cost of $2.8 million, using revenue from impact fees on new construction. The center will serve students in Head Start, ESE pre-K and voluntary pre-K (VPK). The Willow Oak early childhood learning center is part of the district’s overall emphasis on early-childhood education. At the December school board work session, Byrd expressed her hope that additional early childhood centers will be constructed within the district in the future.

A render of the early childhood learning center at Willow Oak