The dream began in 1955 when Barbara and Ernest Mendenhall convened a group of parents interested in starting a school where creativity and personal involvement are encouraged, where children experience an outdoor life, where they fall in love with the idea of going to school, and where a superb education is attained with joy.
By early 1956, Articles of Incorporation were filed and Isabel Chesnut was appointed Educational Director. Although school was to open in the fall of 1956, there was still no campus. An anonymous donation (years later revealed to be from Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dakin) for the purchase of 37 bayside acres provided the site, and school began on September 12, 1956, in a temporary location near Fairfax.
By late August of 1957 it became evident that the "temporary" prefabricated buildings under construction would not be ready in time for the opening of school, so the year began in rented circus tents, with portable bathrooms, water barrels, and field telephones. The first buildings were ready for occupancy by November, but plumbing didn't arrive until the following year.
The third year began with 200 students and a new all-purpose room. In 1959, construction began on library/administration, music and art buildings, and the first graduating class of five students was celebrated at an all-school ceremony.
In September 1960, Costa J. Leodas became the Educational Director and Miss Chesnut assumed the position of Dean of the Lower School.
Beginning traditions abounded in the 1960s: the first Step Up Ceremony (on tiers of railroad ties constructed by the Class of '61); the first edition of the yearbook, Tradewinds; the first performance of a Gilbert & Sullivan production, Trial by Jury; and the composition of the school song by the Class of '62. As the school continued to grow, dependence on parent voluntarism and the "culture of possibility" was stronger than ever.
The 1963 fall term opened with Peter Rothermel settled in the position of Headmaster. A banner year for athletics, '63 also saw the completion of the new gymnasium, founding of the Blue-Green teams, and beginning of the inter-school sports program. In the summer of 1969, Malcolm Manson began his tenure as Headmaster.
The seventies were an adventurous era at MCDS, when the commitment to outdoor education burgeoned with numerous teacher-led excursions and the first seventh grade backpacking trip (to Aravipa Canyon in Arizona).
Curricular innovations featured the addition of a ninth grade (from 1971-75) and mixed-age, cross-grade level classrooms. Other "firsts" in the '70s included the Art Fair, computer science program, Grandparents Day, and fund-raising Auction to extend the scholarship program.
The '70s also posed physical challenges to the campus, notably the removal of the massive rock overhanging the property north of the Music Room, which was showing signs of sliding onto the school. During removal of The Rock, the entire school moved to Dominican College in San Rafael.
Expansion of the art, music and drama programs resulted in construction of a new Performing Arts Center in 1981. The "colorful " classrooms in Lower School acquired new identities as trees with the return to single-grade classrooms, and in 1982 David M. Rivers became the fifth Head of Marin Country Day School.
During the '80s the school focused attention on curriculum development and the growth of the whole child. A long-range planning and evaluation process addressed student "wellness" - both physical and psychosocial. The plan also recommended a more active program of student service opportunities and implementation of a guided sequence of values/ethics related activities.
Summer grants and professional development funding helped teachers refine their practices in child-centered, developmentally appropriate ways that resulted in a more integrated, interactive, hands-on curriculum, with an emphasis on thematic teaching.
Ed Sibley served as Interim Headmaster in 1987-88, and Timothy W. Johnson was welcomed as the new Head of School at Step Up ceremonies in 1988.
The process of reflection and reaffirmation of the school's philosophy continued in the nineties with codification of the core values and mission statement.
It was also a time of reaching out to the broader community, with programs such as Beyond Borders. A science and technology initiative launched the inquiry-based science program and greatly enhanced teaching technology. The school strove to harness technology to enhance teaching and learning and to make communication more efficient through use of an extensive website and email.
Efforts to refine the curriculum continued, and the faculty worked extensively on teaching standards and scope and sequence in all academic subjects, with increased collaboration across disciplines.
The nineties also saw a new focus on integrated financial planning and future sustainability. As the school matured, the need for new construction shifted toward the need to compensate faculty in a way that would enable the school to attract and retain the skilled teachers who are the hallmark of MCDS.
A New Millennium
MCDS faces the changes and challenges of the twenty-first century from a position of strength and clear aspirations for the future.
The ambitious goals -outlined in Strategic Plan 2000- had been largely realized by 2004, with major improvement in faculty and staff compensation and invention and implementation of Indexed Tuition as successor to the school's tuition assistance program.
Advances were made in such areas as character education, service learning, educational technology and, professional assessment. Along with new knowledge about how children learn came a major effort to create multiple avenues of success, throughout the academic program and through enhanced Student Support Services.
In 2003 Tim Johnson "stepped up" to new adventures after 15 years of extraordinary leadership, and Lucinda Lee Katz was appointed Head of School to begin in July 2004. While Lucinda completed work on a special educational initiative for the City of Chicago, MCDS was fortunate to have the guidance, wisdom and fresh perspective of Interim Head Nicholas S. Thacher during the 2003-04 academic year.
Strategic Plan 2006 guided MCDS for the next several years, as did the facilities Master Plan developed in the 2005-2006 school year. The planning focuses on preparing children to be engaged and responsible citizens in the 21st century by encouraging eco-literacy, by fostering a sense of global citizenship and by providing a thorough grounding in technology, media literacy and the like.
In 2007, construction began on comprehensive campus improvements to create spaces to support MCDS's dynamic program and enhance responsible stewardship of our natural surroundings; key elements of Strategic Plan 2006. Construction on campus improvements was completed in 2009.
A year-long 50th anniversary celebration was held during the 2006-2007 school year. At this milestone in MCDS's history, the remarks of a former parent and Board Chair at the 25th anniversary celebration still ring true:
I feel tremendous confidence about MCDS's future. The school's great strengths - its commitment to serve families by caring for their children as individuals, its dedication to teaching and learning as joyful pursuits no less than earnest ones, its determination that the opportunities of MCDS be shared among families from different backgrounds - are superb qualities upon which to build in the years to come. We have grown and prospered precisely because we have welcomed the sorts of risks and challenges which the future always contains.
In 2011, MCDS began work on a new Strategic Plan which will guide the school for the next several years.