Forsyth School_Campus & History

Creative Learning

Forsyth School was founded in 1961 as a small preschool in a house leased from the Unity Christ Church on Forsyth Boulevard. Using methods and materials now considered ahead of their time, founder Mary Dunbar established “an environment for creative learning.” Because families wanted their children to stay at Forsyth, a small non-graded primary school was established when a garage became a classroom for 15 children ages 5–7. The School added one class each year through age 12, graduating its first sixth-grade class in 1970. By that year, enrollment had grown to 270 students. In an astonishingly brief period of time, Forsyth grew to become a highly respected independent elementary school situated among most of the major cultural institutions in the St. Louis area.

Forsyth School’s one-of-a-kind campus supports the culture of challenge and defines the educational experience as children grow from grade to grade and move from house to house. The core of Forsyth’s unique campus consists of six historic homes, acquired one by one over five decades since 1965. All six houses were built in the 1920s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; each has been repurposed and renovated to provide spacious classrooms, a library, and lunchroom spaces. With three houses each on the parallel streets of Wydown and Forsyth Boulevards, the adjoining backyards create a large courtyard area that has been converted into playgrounds, gardens, and athletic spaces (Sport Court and FieldTurf™ field with surrounding track). Through the years, new construction has augmented Forsyth’s historic buildings with the Rand Center for Performing Arts & Athletics (and Adventure Center), New House Arts Center, science labs, and campus-wide infrastructure updates to support teaching and learning.

Scaled to Size

Forsyth’s campus setting, including six re-purposed, historic homes, contributes a unique element to the climate of the School. Each building, manageable in size for a child, has its own character and identity. Transition by grade from one house to another is viewed as a special rite of passage by both children and their families, allowing students to develop a sense of place as they become familiar with the School, one building at a time. The campus has grown as new property has become available.

Forsyth By Era

1961–77: Mary Dunbar

Forsyth School founder Mary Dunbar was an innovator who recruited teachers who shared her vision and philosophy of creative learning that emphasized the importance of confidence and self-discipline. Despite a tight financial situation, Forsyth grew quickly from 14 preschool children in 1961 to an enrollment of 270 students in Pre-K through Grade 6 by 1970. Not surprisingly, overcrowding was an issue. In 1974, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) accepted Forsyth School as an accredited member. When Mary Dunbar retired, Assistant Head and long-time teacher Ellen Mutrux served as Interim Head of the School.

Campus Development: 

Forsyth School's first piece of owned property, Fillmore House, was acquired in 1965. Dunbar House on Wydown Boulevard was acquired in 1977 and named in honor of Mary Dunbar upon her retirement.

1978–86: Barbara Skimming

Under Barbara Skimming, Forsyth focused on evaluating and improving both the curriculum and the facilities to ensure that the students were well prepared for secondary school. Curriculum work was a big focus for the faculty, and admission testing began. French and Latin were taught, grammar and spelling were emphasized, and social studies curriculum was adopted. The School became part of the Education Confederation of St. Louis and the Missouri Association of Independent Schools in addition to its accreditation from Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS). Forsyth also became active with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). During Barbara Skimming's tenure, Forsyth moved to the mainstream of the independent school community.

Campus Development:

The art studio and multipurpose addition to Fillmore House were built in 1985. (The art studio is now the Science Center.)

1986–2007: Rebecca Glenn, PhD

Forsyth’s third Head of School, Rebecca Glenn, PhD, led Forsyth through a huge period of expansion that encompassed every aspect of the School, due to the support of a very entrepreneurial administration and Board of Trustees. The campus doubled in size during this era; new facilities were added and old ones were improved. The School invested substantially in curriculum development and alignment, as well in the technology to support the curriculum. Finally, financial aid and fundraising were initiated. As the campus grew larger, so did the student body, reaching mature size in 2006/07. Forsyth School emerged as a highly respected, 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; and the Rand Center for Performing Arts & Athletics was built in 1997. One of the largest campus improvement programs in Forsyth School’s history was implemented over a three-year period, from 2004–07. Falcon Field, the Williams Walled Garden, and the New House Arts Center were built during this time. In 2006, the Forsyth Adventure Center with high ropes course, climbing wall, and high beam (built in 1998) was constructed in the Rand Center Gymnasium. Finally, the award-winning Rebecca Glenn Playgrounds were built as the new Center of Campus.

2007–17: Michael Vachow

Upon Rebecca Glenn’s retirement, Michael Vachow became the fourth Head of Forsyth School. Throughout his tenure, Michael Vachow focused on refining the organizational structure and systems appropriate to a mature educational institution. The Forsyth community completed two strategic plans and developed a facilities master plan. Campus expansion was a significant part of the School’s focus during this time with the acquisition of two adjacent pieces of property, facilities planning, and an accompanying capital campaign to raise funds for campus improvements and endowments. 

Campus Development:

Forsyth purchased land from the neighboring St. Louis Hillel at Washington University in 2011 and acquired its sixth historic house in 2012. The next year, Last House and Next House (the newly acquired house on Wydown) underwent comprehensive renovations. An upper school courtyard was built between these two houses, and the lot purchased from Hillel was transformed into the Big Backyard. Fillmore House, Forsyth's Early Childhood Center, was renovated from top to bottom in 2015.

2017–18: Timothy Burns, PhD

Following Michael Vachow's departure, the Forsyth School Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Timothy Burns, PhD, as the Interim Head of School for the 2017/18 school year.

2018–present: Daniel Hildebrand

Forsyth welcomed Daniel Hildebrand as the fifth permanent Head of School in the summer of 2018, after an extensive national search and a unanimous vote of approval by the Board of Trustees. He has more than 30 years of experience as an educator, coach, and administrator.

Historic Homes

Forsyth’s six historic homes are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wydown-Forsyth Historic District by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Historical data below from the Wydown-Forsyth Historic District Nomination Form. 

Fillmore House [Forsyth]

Built: 1925
Acquired: 1965
Renovated: 2015
Architect: Albert Meyer

Dunbar House [Wydown]

Built: 1930
Acquired: 1977
Architect: Nolte & Nauman

New House & Arts Center [Forsyth]

Built: 1927
Acquired: 1989
Architect: Maritz & Young

Gerdine House [Forsyth]

Built: 1926
Acquired: 1995
Architect: Maritz & Young

Last House [Wydown]

Built: 1928
Acquired: 1996
Renovated: 2013
Architect: Nolte & Nauman

Next House [Wydown]

Built: 1929
Acquired: 2012
Renovated: 2013
Architect: Dan Mullen