A Brief History

A Brief History

In the Beginning...

In 1972, a teacher named Elizabeth C. Ely founded The Field School with 44 students in a small set of rooms above Regina Cleaners, a dry-cleaning establishment on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street in downtown Washington, DC.

Elizabeth, as Field students have always known her, had taught math in public school classrooms of over 50 students, and she had worked in "progressive" schools of the era that failed to teach with a sense of intellectual order. After helping to found Edmund Burke School, she envisioned her own school—a place where a classic curriculum encompassing organized "fields" of knowledge could be taught in a small, informal environment that stressed dialogue, analytic thinking, and larger lessons of how young people could grow to become generous, responsible, self-knowing adults. Thus, The Field School—a place where students call their teachers by their first names but also study Homer and Shakespeare—was born.
By 1974, Field had grown to 97 students and needed a new home. On a famed Saturday that spring, students, faculty, and parents convened to carry all of the school's desks, chairs, and books up Connecticut Avenue to Field's new home on Wyoming Avenue. By this time, the school had already established several of its signature programs—every student took a studio arts class every day of every year, and participation in athletics was a must. Also, the school spearheaded a program in art history education and a volunteer internship program each winter during which students went into the community to learn how to find a job and apply their skills in the world.

Growth and Maturity

Between 1974 and 2002, The Field School grew and evolved at a remarkable pace while maintaining its allegiance to its core values of small class size, intellectual challenge, and attention to the individual student. The school expanded to fill a second brownstone home across from the first, and eventually 220 of the most adventurous and individualistic young people in the DC area were being educated in the quirky rooms of Field's two homes. All of Field's programs had expanded in size and ambition—we played more and more sports, we offered jazz studies along with ceramics and photography, we built science labs, and we devised trips, simulations, and projects to challenge students whose curiosity and invention seemed always to grow. Teachers from the best colleges kept arriving, and students left to pursue studies in every field imaginable, spreading the word of the small DC school that had claw-foot bathtubs in its bathrooms and superb writing instruction.
When the school was accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges in 1993, it was praised as a "model school" that had found success with all sorts of students. Field, however, needed a new campus, according to Middle States. And so it was that the Field Board of Directors set out to perform the school's first complete financial audit, to carry out the school's first successful capital campaign, and to seek a new, more complete home for the school's ideals and work.  We discovered the 10.5-acre home of the Cafritz family in 1998. Immediately, the administration, faculty and student body began designing a new campus and the ways in which we could maintain "the Field way" in a very different location.

A New Beginning

In 2002, The Field School opened the doors on its new campus—complete with its first gymnasium, its first playing field, brand new science labs and studio spaces, and a fresh sense of potential. Though the quirks of "the old campus" were difficult to leave behind, Field students and teachers made sure that the new campus would be distinctive and unique. Though the student body has grown to almost 370 students, the average class size is still eleven. Though the buildings are newer, there is still no "back row" in each classroom. There is no less adventure in students' conversations with teachers or in their photography portfolios. Elizabeth Ely retired in 2006, and the ideals she established continue to guide a Field education: "A key aspect of Field's success is the mutual respect among teachers and students. The exchange of dialogue with teachers and other adults builds students' confidence, particularly when teachers reach out and talk personally and sincerely to the students and learn who they are. Field is all about dialogue."
After Elizabeth's retirement, Dale Johnson was appointed as Head of School by the Board of Trustees in 2004. In 2007, the Board adopted a ten-year strategic plan (created by school leadership with broad participation by the community) calling on Field to: Teach Students Expansively, Achieve Diverse Community, Celebrate Our Faculty, Proclaim Our School, and Establish Financial Strength. In 2012, the school added a sixth grade, expanding the number of families who can take advantage of Field.

The 2018-2019 year brought an end to Field's third strategic planning process, a community-wide effort that ended with a bold plan calling on Field to: Inspire Student Discovery; Honor Field's Faculty & Staff; Achieve Greater Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Strengthen Field's Financial Foundation; and Proclaim Field's Mission and Core Values.
Following Dale's tenure, Anne Foley '96 served as Interim Head of School for the 2019-2020 school year. Field welcomed Lori Strauss, our third Head of School, in July 2020. 

Field is still guided by its motto, Aude Sapere or "Dare to Be Wise." Our mission statement is brief and bold: Self-Discovery, Skills of Mind, Generosity of Heart. Those ideals live in our classrooms every day, and they continue to guide our alumni, whose extraordinary experiences as young people have made them extraordinary adults. We feel certain that the principles of Field education, indeed, look strong a long way into the future.