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Portledge History

Encouraging curiosity, creativity, and socialization for nearly 60 years.

EXPLORE Portledge

In May 1965, the trustees of the Alice K. Coffin Fund, Inc. gave 63 acres of the Alice S. Coffin estate, Portledge, and all the buildings on this land, to the adjoining Miss Stoddart’s School for Very Little People for the purpose of establishing a coeducational college preparatory day school.

Portledge found its early mission aiming at “providing an atmosphere of warmth and friendliness where the joy of learning and excitement of discovery are encouraged, shared and emphasized equally with the acquisition of knowledge, academic skills and the rigor of intellectual discipline.” The main residence was renovated during the summer, and Portledge School opened in September under the guidance of Headmistress Mary F. Jonathan with 100 children in nursery, kindergarten, first and second grades. A grade was added each year until the first senior class graduated in 1976.

List of 5 frequently asked questions.

  • Building a Foundation

    The next two decades marked an era where Portledge established strong foundations, as the school expanded enrollment and facilities, broadened the academic programs, and identified educational leaders who would direct the school during the formative years.

    By 1970, the Lower School had been completed with a library, dining facilities, a gymnasium/auditorium, and additional classrooms. At the same time, the original Miss Stoddart’s School building had been transformed into the headmaster’s residence, Stoddart House. Also in that same year, David S. Staples, who taught at Exeter and had been the assistant headmaster at the Key School, became the school’s headmaster. Mr. Staples was instrumental in seeing the school through its early expansion, as he oversaw the creation of both the Middle and Upper School divisions, and their respective buildings that provided classrooms, a library, science laboratories, and gymnasium. While the campus was growing in its physical plant during the 1970s, the latter part of the decade was highlighted by the hiring of Huson R. Gregory as the school’s third Head of School.

    In 1977, Huson R. Gregory, who had been Director of Guidance and an English teacher at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey, joined the Portledge community. His leadership would span almost three decades, leaving an imprint on the school that will be forever felt. Mr. Gregory’s first charge handed down by the school’s Board of Trustees was to take his prior experience in private schools and help build a college preparatory curriculum at Portledge. Mr. Gregory’s effort to create a rigorous academic program that was vertically integrated through all divisions was a shared venture with two of his early hires. David Hoyler was named the Director of Middle and Upper School in 1980, serving in that post until 2010, and Lisa Cermak was appointed Director of Lower School in the same decade. The three would collaborate in the construction of Portledge’s academic “blueprint” that focused on preparing students for entrance into the elite colleges and universities of the nation while maintaining the community feel that Mary Jonathan established during the school’s inception.
  • Further Growth

    Curt Sawyer was added to the faculty in the early 1980s, taking on the responsibility of Director of Athletics. Mr. Sawyer was instrumental in building an athletic program that provided Portledge students with competitive interscholastic sports. He was critical to the creation and maintenance of the school’s athletic fields and facilities which would grow to include a Lower School gym, Middle and Upper School gym, three full-scale fields, and five tennis courts. This core administrative group was supported by the faculty who worked at the school during the late 20th century, further establishing the school as a competitive college preparatory school and allowing the name and recognition of Portledge to expand throughout the independent school and collegiate communities.

    The more recent history of Portledge has witnessed continued institutional growth as the school celebrated its 50th anniversary. The trustees of the late 1990s focused on raising capital for the school endowment and campus restorations. The school invested the raised capital into the Middle School building and in summer of 2000 completed Phase I of the Carriage House expansion that included new classrooms and Bahnik Hall, an all-purpose auditorium. The groundbreaking for Phase II of the Carriage House expansion occurred in August 2002, and the construction was completed by early fall 2003. The expansion provided outstanding facilities for the Middle School, including eight new classrooms and two new science labs, as well as dedicated space for instruction in music, studio arts, and computer science. The new building, dedicated as the Huson R. Gregory Carriage House in recognition of the 29 years of service that Headmaster Gregory gave to Portledge, would also have a new leader.

    Susan Edwards-Bourdrez came to Portledge in 1983 and helped to shape the foreign language department serving as both teacher and later department head. She was appointed as the Middle School Division Head in 2010 and in that capacity, has worked to strengthen the intellectual and social atmosphere while nurturing and challenging students as they transition from childhood to young adulthood. In that same year, Mr. Gregory was succeeded by Steven L. Hahn, who had served for 19 years as the head of Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts.

    Under Mr. Hahn’s first year of stewardship, the community undertook a review of the school’s strategic plan and collaborated on the creation of a new mission statement that helped to highlight key institutional qualities as well as establish both long and short-term goals. Mr. Hahn worked closely with the trustees, helping them to fully understand the scope of their leadership and what makes good independent school governance. The cooperative endeavor has allowed for critical growth in the past several years focusing on the expansion of Upper School enrollment, curricular development at the Lower School level, a strengthening of athletics and identifying “next generation” divisional leaders.
  • New Leadership

    On July 1, 2012, Simon Owen-Williams officially became Portledge's fifth Head of School. Prior to Portledge, Simon was Head of the Carlisle School in Martinsville, Virginia. Since his arrival, Mr. Owen-Williams has overseen a re-evaluation of our educational goals as we prepare our students for college and life in the 21st century; and he has sought to align all three divisions behind a set of guiding principles and teaching models to bring Portledge to the forefront of modern education. Mr. Owen-Williams also guided the school through a successful three-year strategic plan, 2014-2017, and has collaborated with members of key Portledge constituencies in the creation of 20/20: A Clear Vision, Portledge School's current three-year strategic plan. Under the guidance of Mr. Owen-Williams, Portledge School has been accredited as an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme School, further cementing the school's commitment to providing a first-class college preparatory education to our students.

    At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, Portledge School opened our latest capital project - the Portledge Commons. This 28,000+ sq ft building provides Portledge with an enlarged dining hall, black box theatre, and additional classroom space.
  • Challenging Times

    The challenge of COVID-19, as it rapidly spread at the start of 2020, presented many obstacles to everyone. Portledge was no differently affected than any other educational establishment.

    The Portledge leadership quickly recognized that this was not just a passing pandemic and that drastic measures would be required to try and curb the devastating effects of the virus. Convening an ad hoc committee of administrators and faculty members, the school started to make plans for what was ahead. As the world started to go into lockdown, it was evident that Portledge would have to move to an online education plan. The school adapted quickly, and with the support of our families, faculty, and students, the shift to remote learning proceeded with minimal interruption to our curriculum.

    While remote learning took a great toll on everyone’s well-being, socialization, and celebration of our students’ accomplishments, the Portledge spirit shone through and we were able to consistently deliver our signature, high-level education to our students. Closely following the recommendations of federal, state, and local authorities allowed us to bring our students and faculty back onto campus safely in the fall of 2020. While we are still dealing with the lingering effects of the pandemic and its continued impact throughout the world, Portledge still delivers quality education as we look ahead to a world that must be constantly vigilant.
  • Portledge Today

    At present, Portledge is a community of approximately 500 students in pre-nursery through twelfth grade. Through all three divisions, Portledge prides itself on strong student-teacher relationships, awareness of the development of young children and adolescents, and the structure and support that enable students to take risks and build confidence to meet high expectations of scholarship and citizenship. Against this backdrop, we are continually re-examining and refining our programs to meet the needs of our families.

    Portledge is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools, the New York State Association of Independent Schools, the Green Schools Alliance, and the College Board. Portledge has its absolute charter granted by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, is accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools, and is registered as an approved, accredited secondary school by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.
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