About

History

History of TCS

The Country School was founded in 1955 by a group of parents dedicated to quality education and interested in providing an environment where children could develop their full potential. 
Founding Principles
The spirit behind the founding of the school was “a local manifestation of a country-wide awakening to the problems of primary and secondary education which has come with the huge increase in our young population and a resultant overcrowding in all schools,” according to the school’s founding documents.

“More serious was the shortage of teachers who are able to reach the minds of young children and develop their natural enthusiasm for learning.” The founders described the school they envisioned this way: “The Country School is not an exclusive institution, but one where, through smaller classes and individual attention, children may progress according to their ability. It is created to take advantage of education opportunities and to do so in an atmosphere of learning in which parents and teachers working together can help children realize their full potentialities. With full knowledge that the road ahead is full of difficulties, not the least of which are financial, the members of The Country School are confident of growth.”

Earliest Years
The first year, school took place in two rented classrooms in a house in Stony Creek, with one teacher, Katherine DeFrancis, teaching 13 children in seven different grade levels. The second year, a 15-acre parcel of land was purchased on Opening Hill Road in Madison, David MacLane was appointed Headmaster, and The Country School as we know it today began to take shape. Charles Twichell, a teacher and trustee during the school’s early years, wrote about the excitement that gripped all involved:
Those of us who had any part in the creation of The Country School or in its early years on Opening Hill Road will never forget the satisfaction and pride that accompanied our total commitment. Trustees, parents, and faculty labored, often with bare hands, to create buildings, improve grounds, develop a curriculum. And the children, aware that each step was a “first,” were excited, too. You parents surely want a school where the excitement of learning and the excitement of creation are part of your children’s day. Every community wants such a school. The children in it will see taking place around them the very process of change and growth, or re-evaluation and redefinition, that will surely characterize their adult lives.
Enrollment Growth
With its commitment to enabling all students to reach their full potential and emphasis on exciting and creative learning, the school grew rapidly from just a handful of students in 1955 to 93 in 1960. In 1971, the school had an enrollment of 154, and the student population stabilized at around 160 for many years. In the late 1980s, the school moved from its traditional model of one section per grade to, in most cases, two sections per grade, allowing for dramatic growth. Today, after reaching a high around 2000 of some 295 students, it serves more than 220 students, from PreSchool to Grade 8, with families hailing from more than 20 shoreline Connecticut communities as well as from further afield.

As early as 1962, The Country School began offering scholarships to qualified students who could not afford to attend otherwise. In the 1970s, a commitment was made to enrolling students who could bring diversity to the school community, an undertaking which also involved financial support. During the school’s 50th Anniversary Year, the Founders’ Promise Fund was created, followed a few years later by the David and Lois MacLane Endowment for Scholarship. Both funds are aimed at ensuring that deserving students would be able to attend the school even when their families cannot afford it. A merit scholarship is also offered each year.

In 2017, The Country School initiated an International Student Program, enrolling international students interested in an independent school education capable of preparing them for placement in independent, U.S.-based secondary schools, both boarding and day. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Country School virtually enrolled a former student who had moved to a different state and wished to participate in Distance Learning at The Country School. She remained enrolled even after all schools returned to in-person classes, preferring a remote Country School experience to in-person attendance in North Carolina.  

Evolving Campus
Just as student enrollment has grown over the years, so has the physical campus. When the property on Opening Hill Road was purchased in the 1950s, an iconic building stood at what would become the entrance to campus. Known as the Farmhouse, it initially served as the home of the school’s first headmaster and his family and today serves as an administrative building and meeting space. Built sometime in the 1800s, the Farmhouse, or the building that preceded it in the spot where it now stands,  is believed to have a storied history, which students and teachers hope to explore this year. 

The early classroom buildings were designed by architect Hugh McKittrick Jones, one of the school’s founders. Arranged in a half-oval pattern facing the Farmhouse, these buildings established a path that would inspire campus planners for decades to come, including Centerbrook Architects, who prepared the school’s Campus Master Plan and, in 2018, oversaw the installation of an oval courtyard, known as the Burt Family Green, to complete the pattern created by the first classroom buildings. The green now stands as the centerpiece of campus, with the Farmhouse on one side and the classrooms, arranged in grade order, on the other.  Jones House, one of the original classroom buildings, is named in honor of the school’s initial architect, Hugh Jones. Robinson House is named for longtime French and Headmistress Carol Robinson, and MacLane House is named for David MacLane, the school’s first Headmaster. Other named buildings include: 

  • DeFrancis Gymnasium, named in honor of Katharine de Francis, the school’s first teacher, added in 1966
  • Clark House, which houses PreSchool, PreKindergarten, and Kindergarten, named in 1972 in honor of longtime early childhood teacher Edith Clark
  • The Blatchford Learning Center, built and dedicated in 1997 in honor of Edward Blatchford, Head of School from 1986-1997. The Blatchford Learning Center also houses Elmore Library, named in honor of longtime trustee Bill Elmore, who is also the inspiration for our Elmore Leadership signature program.

Over the years, the campus footprint has also expanded. In 1998, the school completed a land swap with the state of Connecticut, an agreement that allowed the school to acquire woodlands surrounding  the campus, giving The Country School a 23-acre footprint. Ultimately, that land swap — and the successful 60th Anniversary Shaping the Future Campaign begun in 2015 — enabled the dramatic expansion of our athletic facilities to include two state-of-the art soccer fields, a baseball field, four tennis courts, and a full-size outdoor basketball court.

Earlier gifts resulted in the creation of The Children’s Garden (a great resource for science and STEAM, a space for students to learn about planting, harvesting, and sometimes cooking fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and a fabulous outdoor classroom) and an expansive outdoor ropes course in the woods. In 2020, the cross country trail was named in honor of Jordan Katz ’99, who effectively started the cross country program as a student. The trail, greatly enhanced since those early days, serves as the training ground for  Country School runners and as the site of a popular Middle School cross country race attended by other local schools. 

As a community, we often describe the experience of learning at The Country School as a “classroom without walls.” From the school’s earliest years, students have spent much of the day outside, either during recess (in the 1950s, “recess” involved clearing rocks from what would become the athletic field), on nature hikes through the woods, or because it was a beautiful day and students and teachers simply wanted to be outside. This was never more true than during the pandemic, when most classes and all meals were, and often continue to be, held outside.   

Programmatic Changes
Like every school, The Country School has evolved programmatically over the years, always with its mission of helping students reach their highest — or, in the words of the current Mission Statement — to “face the future with confidence and an education that lasts a lifetime” at the forefront. Since its earliest years, The Country School has maintained a commitment to a dynamic and rigorous academic program with inspiring offerings in the arts and athletics supporting academics. In recent years, our five signature programs, STEAM, Elmore Leadership, Global Citizenship, Outdoor Education, and Public Speaking,  have added to the “excitement” and “creativity” — and to the depth — of our program. Each of these endeavors is designed to support academics while furthering our commitment to character and leadership development. These signature programs honor students’ unique roles in the community, with the ultimate goal of empowering all to serve the common good. In addition, our schoolwide IDEA initiative (with IDEA standing for Inclusion, Diversity, Empathy, and Action) has a similar goal: to prepare students to be thoughtful, inclusive, impactful members of our diverse, rapidly changing world.  

Legacy of Growth and Change
In the words of Charles Twitchell, The Country School has seen continued growth and change, or re-evaluation and redefinition, over the years. In spite of the changes, we like to think that our founders would recognize The Country School of today as the direct descendant of the school they created. Even today, more than 65 years after its founding, The Country School remains at its core a place where the excitement of learning and the excitement of creation are part of [every child’s] day.
341 Opening Hill Road, Madison, CT 06443
P. 203-421-3113  |  F. 203-421-4390  |  Health Office F. 860-469-2550
Founded in 1955, The Country School is a coeducational, independent school serving students in PreSchool-Grade 8. The Country School is committed to active, hands-on learning and a vigorous curriculum that engages the whole child.