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Villa Academy Appoints Head of School

Liz Willis, Ph.D. to become Head of School in July 2022

Press Release

SEATTLE, WA (October 12, 2021)— The Trustees of Villa Academy, an independent and Catholic pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, announced today the appointment of Liz Willis, Ph.D. as its next Head of School. Dr. Willis was selected from an impressive pool of candidates and will succeed Julie Thenell Grasseschi, Interim Head of School, on July 1, 2022.

“As a faith-centered educator who sees my work with students, families, faculty and staff as a vocation and not just a career, I’m inspired to take this step into service of Villa Academy and its people,” Dr. Willis said. “I’m deeply grateful to the Board of Trustees for entrusting me with leading the community they love so dearly.”

The Trustees’ decision to appoint Dr. Willis was based on the unanimous and enthusiastic recommendation of the Head of School Search Committee, which began its nationwide search in January 2021.

“Dr. Willis is a brilliant strategist, empathetic leader and inspiring visionary committed to student-centered, transformative education,” Chris Allen, Board of Trustees Chair, said. “Her exemplary record as a dedicated administrator and academic leader is equal to her business acumen and strong emotional intelligence. As our next Head of School, she will undoubtedly champion Villa Academy’s mission, which is guided by the Cabrinian tradition of educating compassionate and confident learners for lives of infinite possibility.”

“When the Search Committee began the important work of selecting Head of School finalists, we understood that our ideal candidate must possess more than foundational qualifications and educational best practices. We aspired to find an innovative and collaborative leader with lived values aligned with Villa Academy’s vision, as well as someone who could amplify and sustain our school’s excellence for years to come,” said Dr. Patrick Marti, Middle School science and math teacher and Search Committee member.

In addition to more than 20 years’ experience in education, Dr. Willis has a bachelor’s degree in biology and history from Loyola Marymount University and master’s and doctorate degrees in American history from the University of Southern California. 

“For over 118 years, Villa Academy has endeavored to fulfill and educate the whole child through an inclusive and ambitious curriculum integrating academic skill and social, emotional and spiritual development,” Julie Grasseschi, Interim Head of School, said. “Dr. Willis is well-positioned to take up the mantle of our school’s founder, St. Frances Cabrini, and guide our community through the celebrations and challenges unique to independent Catholic schools.” 

Currently, Dr. Willis serves as the Associate Head of School and Interim Upper School Director at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in Villanova, Pennsylvania. She oversees the curricular and co-curricular programs of a college preparatory, sixth- through twelfth-grade, girls' Catholic school, serving 65 faculty and 553 students. Her work has included hiring for equity and justice, building an advisory program centered on student wellness, designing and implementing a new faculty growth and evaluation process and exploring new options for advanced coursework.

Prior to her time at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, Dr. Willis served as Academic Dean, High School Dean of Students, Grade Level Coordinator, and Social Studies teacher at Oakwood School, a progressive kindergarten through twelfth-grade school in North Hollywood, California. During her tenure, Dr. Willis established and facilitated advisory programs, expansive curricular change, admissions and development events and antiracist identity work. As a credit to her work’s achievements, Dr. Willis has presented her research on leadership in independent schools at both state and national levels.

“I’ve never encountered a school mission, vision, and values that so closely align with my own. To join and lead the team of Villa Academy’s educators—who devote their careers to raising compassionate hearts and confident minds—feels like coming home,” Dr. Willis said.

Founded in 1903 by St. Frances Cabrini, Villa Academy has a full-time teaching and faculty staff of 72, serving more than 360 students in the greater Seattle area. 



About Villa Academy: Located in the heart of northeast Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood, Villa Academy is an independent, Catholic pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school with a 31-acre campus that goes beyond the classroom walls for hands-on, experiential learning. Academic rigor is foundational to our Whole-Child philosophy, as we believe that every child deserves to be known as an individual—heart, mind, body, and spirit. Our students explore real-world issues, think critically, and develop skills not only for future academic journeys but for life. Small-class sizes and highly collaborative faculty empower students as individuals. At Villa Academy, our students thrive in their learning styles and social-emotional growth and wellbeing, and through grade-appropriate social justice curricula, they deepen their compassion and character. For more information, visit

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