HOW FORSYTH SCHOOL DEVELOPED
Forsyth’s one-of-a-kind campus supports and defines the children’s educational experience as they move through the houses. At the core of the campus are 6 repurposed, historic houses, all built between 1924-1930 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that have been renovated to provide spacious classrooms, a library, and lunchroom spaces. (Adaptive reuse since 1965 when Forsyth's first house was purchased.) The adjoining backyards have been converted into playgrounds and athletic fields. Through the years, new construction has augmented Forsyth’s historic buildings with athletic and performing arts facilities, science labs, and additional classroom space.
While the campus has grown as property has become available, the leadership of Forsyth School has been very stable and strong. Since its founding in 1961, Forsyth has had only four Heads of School. Each of these Heads of School represents distinct eras in the School’s history and development.
1961-1977: Mary Dunbar >> Founder Mary Dunbar was an innovator who recruited teachers who shared her vision and philosophy of creative learning that emphasized the importance of instilling confidence and self-discipline. Despite being financially strapped during the Dunbar years, Forsyth School grew quickly from 14 pre-school children in 1961 to an enrollment of 270 students in Pre-K – Grade 6 by 1970. Not surprisingly, overcrowding was an issue. In 1974, ISACS accepted Forsyth as an accredited member noting that Forsyth was a “lovely intimate small school doing an excellent job for the community;” however, the School was “very crowded.” When Mrs. Dunbar retired, Assistant Head and long-time teacher Ellen Mutrux served as interim Head of the School.
Campus Development: Forsyth began as a pre-school in a house leased from the Unity Christ Church. The School’s first piece of property, Fillmore House, was acquired in 1965; and Dunbar House on the Wydown side was acquired in 1977 and named in honor of retiring Head Mary Dunbar.
1978-1986: Barbara Skimming >> Under Barbara Skimming, Forsyth’s focus was on evaluating and improving both the curriculum and the facilities to ensure that the School prepared children well for secondary school. Curriculum work was a big focus for the faculty, and admission testing was begun. French and Latin were taught; grammar and spelling were stressed and a social studies curriculum was adopted. The School became a part of the Education Confederation of St. Louis, the Missouri Association of Independent Schools, ISACS, and became active in NAIS. In short, in Mrs. Skimming’s tenure, Forsyth moved to the mainstream of the independent school community.
Campus Development: In 1985, the art studio and the multipurpose addition to Fillmore House were built. The art studio is now the science lab.
1986-2007: Rebecca Glenn, PhD >> Forsyth’s third Head, Rebecca Glenn, PhD, with the support of a very entrepreneurial administration and Board, led the School through a huge expansion period that encompassed every aspect of the School. The campus doubled in size and new facilities were added and old ones improved; the School invested substantially in curriculum development and alignment, as well in the technology to support the curriculum; and financial aid and fund raising were initiated. As the campus grew larger, so did the student body, reaching mature size in 2006/07. In this period, Forsyth School emerged as a leading independent elementary school in St. Louis.
Campus Development: New House was acquired in 1989; Gerdine House was acquired in 1995; Last House was purchased in 1996; The Rand Center for Performing Arts and Athletics was built in 1997. One of the largest campus improvement programs in Forsyth School’s history was implemented over a 3-year period from 2004 – 2007. Falcon Field, The Williams Walled Garden and the Visual & Performing Arts Center (an addition to New House) were built. In 2006, the Forsyth Adventure Center with a high ropes course, climbing wall and the high beam (built in 1998) was constructed in the gym. In 2007, the award-winning Rebecca Glenn Playgrounds and Center of Campus were built.
2007-Present: Michael J. Vachow >> Upon Dr. Glenn’s retirement, Michael Vachow became the fourth Head of Forsyth School in July 2007. Mr. Vachow’s focus is refining the organizational structure and systems appropriate to a mature institution. Since 2007, the Forsyth community has been actively involved in developing and executing two strategic plans, evaluating and assessing our campus as part of a facilities master plan, and undergoing an ISACS accreditation, which includes a comprehensive self-study and ISACS accreditation team visit. Campus expansion has been a significant part of Mr. Vachow’s efforts with the acquisition of two adjacent pieces of property, facilities planning, and the accompanying fundraising with a capital campaign. Mr. Vachow is a past President of the Board of the Independent Schools of St. Louis (ISSL); he is on the accreditation review committee of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) and the Membership Committee of the Elementary School Heads Association; and he serves as an ISACS mentor for new heads of school.
Campus Development: Since 2011, the Forsyth School campus has grown 30% with the acquisition of a half-acre lot from St. Louis Hillel at Washington University and the purchase of the School’s sixth historic house, located on Wydown Boulevard. As a result of the Expanding Our Opportunities Capital Campaign, Forsyth School has added an acre and 6,500 square feet of classroom space to the campus. The campaign made possible the comprehensive renovation of 3 of the six Forsyth houses and added more than a half acre of green space. As a result, the classroom space at Forsyth School has been reconfigured: Fillmore Early Childhood Center for Pre- and Junior-Kindergarten; New House for Lower School, Senior-Kindergarten–Grade 2; and in upper school, Grades 3-6 each have a house per grade.