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About ACS >> History

1906 – The Cottage School is Founded

Seeking to expand the educational opportunities for her four-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, Queene Ferry Coonley establishes The Cottage School on her estate in Riverside, IL. Lucia Burton Morse and Charlotte Krum work with Mrs. Coonley; all three women are proponents of Froebel's kindergarten principles and the precepts of Progressive Education. As Elizabeth grows, more classes and teachers are added.

1912 – New Buildings, New Schools

Frank Lloyd Wright finishes the now-famous Coonley Playhouse to accommodate the growth of The Cottage School. Mrs. Coonley also helps to establish kindergartens in other Chicago suburbs, including the new Kindergarten Extension Association School in Downers Grove. Miss Morse moves to Downers Grove to direct the school.






1915 -- Mrs. Coonley's Work is Well-known

John Dewey and his daughter Evelyn publish Schools of To-morrow, which describes the successful implementation of new educational theories. The Cottage School is highlighted in the Deweys' book. The next year, in response to increased local interest, a first-grade class is added to the Downers Grove school, which then changes its name to the Junior Elementary School. Several additional grades are added in subsequent years.



1929 – An Educational Landmark

With space at the Junior Elementary School severely limited, Mrs. Coonley purchases an 11 acre tract of land next to a forest preserve for a new school setting. Waldron Faulkner, her son-in-law, designs the building, and Jens Jensen, one of the country's greatest landscape architects, plans the grounds. Together they create an open, flexible, comfortable learning environment that is in harmony with its natural setting. The school is renamed The Avery Coonley School in honor of Mrs. Coonley's late husband, and over one hundred students attend opening day, September 30, 1929.




1938 – Finding Wisdom is Published

Gertrude Hartman's Finding Wisdom: Chronicles of a School of Today details life at ACS, and becomes a classic in the education field. Hundreds tour the school during its first decade to see Progressive Education in action.


1960 – A New Direction
With Mrs. Coonley's passing in 1958, and John Malach's assumption of the role of headmaster in 1960, a symbolic torch is passed. During the next decade, Mr. Malach leads the school's transition to gifted education. The new mission is a logical and successful next step, building on the traditions, passions, and educational theories that have been present since the school's inception.
1980 – Fine Arts Wing and Early Childhood Program Added

Recognizing the central role that drama, music, and the visual arts have always played in the school's curriculum, a wing dedicated primarily to the fine arts is added. With the additional space ACS is also able to add an Early Childhood program for three-year-olds; true to the vision of Mrs. Coonley and Miss Morse, the new program is designed to be a comfortable bridge between home and school.



1993 – Further Expansion

A full-sized gymnasium, a state-of-the-art performing arts center, a new library, and an expanded lunchroom (or commons) are added. The new spaces provide increased comfort and opportunities for students, and highlight the fact that much of the learning at ACS takes place outside the classroom, through independent and group research, student performances, and interactions with peers. Classroom size is expanded to thirty-two students per group.


2006 – An Historic Past, A Bright Future

The school has much to celebrate—the centennial of Mrs. Coonley's first educational endeavor, the opening of a brand-new Middle School wing, and the addition of a full-day kindergarten program. And, as part of the centennial celebration, archival and historical research documents the school's rich past, and ACS is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The factors that make the school historically significant— the educational principles, the building and grounds, the traditions, and the wisdom and passion of the people who brought these things to life—continue to be the heart of The Avery Coonley School.

Today – The Dawn of a Second Century

ACS continues to guide children onward and upward by encouraging intellectual curiosity, fostering individual talents, and providing a strong foundation to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. Much has changed since Mrs. Coonley first began this journey, but we continue to follow her ideas and her ideals, and remain steadfast in the effort to provide the best possible education for each student.

We are confident that our second century will bring with it the same level of commitment, excellence, and innovation that has characterized our first hundred years. As we enter this new chapter in our history, we invite you to be part of our story.

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