Our Team

Natalie Kleefeld  –  Director & Head Teacher


I began my work in the field of early childhood education in 2004. Since then, I have taught in a range of Reggio-inspired infant, toddler, preschool, and kindergarten classrooms in independent, public, cooperative, and university laboratory settings in California and Massachusetts. I earned an M.A in Child Development from Tufts University as well as a Post-Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Research, Policy and Practice from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. My work in the field has largely focused on progressive early childhood pedagogy and the influence of the schools of Reggio Emilia in the United States. From 2012-2016, I worked as a research assistant to Lella Gandini, U.S. Liaison for the Reggio Emilia Approach. I am passionate about working toward quality early childhood education and take a special interest in documentation, inquiry-based learning, and supporting an environment that invites rich collaboration with children, families, and colleagues.

I live in Santa Cruz, California, with my husband, Kyle. I am a bookworm and enjoy photography, the visual arts, and spending time outdoors with friends and family.

Xitlali Rodriguez – Teacher


Born and raised in San Jose, California, I knew at an early age that I wanted to be an educator. At times my journey was somewhat uncertain, but every step I took led me to where I am today. I always had a passion for math. Thus, I attended The National Hispanic University (NHU) and graduated with an A.S in Math and Science. I was planning to become an accountant but, after taking a business class, I realized it was not the right fit. I graduated from Pacific Oaks College in 2015 with my B.A in Human Development with a concentration in Early Childhood. I started as a student volunteer and, in August 2015, officially joined the Willows teaching team. Currently, I’m working toward my Master’s degree in Educational Administration at Santa Clara University. My wish is always to share my calm joy and warmth with children. Creating strong relationships with children and families is what motivates me every morning. When I am not at school I enjoy being outdoors (biking, hiking, archery), making do-it-yourself projects, reading about education, acquiring new skills, and, just recently, crocheting.

Ashley Estrella- Teacher


Born and raised in California, I have lived in the Bay Area since I was three years old. Since I was young, I have had a passion for teaching and working with young children. When I was in 5th grade, I can vividly remember setting up a classroom in my friend’s garage, inviting the neighborhood children over for “school”. Surprisingly quite a few children came and even did their homework! Going into college, I knew I wanted to study child development. I graduated from San Jose State in 2013 with a B.A. in Child and Adolescent Development. I then went on to get my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. For the past two years I have been teaching four and five year olds. During this time, I have found a deep passion for this age group. I am a strong believer in the power of play and enjoy facilitating the exploration and discovery of new materials. The Reggio approach inspires me and I am excited to join The Willows Nursery School this year. Outside of school, I enjoy reading, baseball games, and spending time with my husband and one year old daughter.

Lydia Walker – Teacher


I was born in San Francisco, and I’ve lived in Mountain View, California all my life. Years ago, I discovered photography and fell in love with it. I pursued my studies in photography at Foothill College and taking pictures of people was where I found my inspiration. Establishing my own business I photographed everything from weddings to families and children. Through all the years of taking pictures I found the most joy in photographing children. Working with children, drawing them out, and trying to capture who they really are was something that I valued highly. A parent whose children I photographed asked if I would be interested in teaching. I was intrigued and decided to take child development courses at Foothill. I have been working part-time at The Willows Nursery School since 2016 and am finishing up my certification in Early Childhood Education. As I continue through my journey my hope is that I will be able to encourage inquiry and inspire individuality in each child as they begin their own journey through life.