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School History

History of Columbus Academy

Columbus Academy, founded in 1911, was one of the first schools in the nation to embrace the “country day” philosophy: a belief that the education process is a cooperative effort between the school and home.

In the school’s first year of operation, Headmaster Frank P.R. Van Syckel and his faculty of two had but 18 boys to train at the old Nelson Road site. At Mr. Van Syckel’s retirement in 1941, the school had weathered the Depression in good health, boasted an enrollment of 113, a faculty of 15, and had established a tradition of excellence in scholarship.

Charles H. Jones, a former Princeton professor and secondary school headmaster, succeeded Mr. Van Syckel and served until 1944.

Sumner F. Dennett, who had taught Latin and English at Academy since 1921, was appointed headmaster in 1944. Under Mr. Dennett’s direction the enrollment continued to expand, new physical facilities were added and the curricular program broadened.

In 1960, Mr. Dennett retired and William S. Putnam, who had served as assistant headmaster at St. Louis Country Day, became Academy’s fourth headmaster. In 1965, it became apparent that the school was outgrowing the Nelson Road site and, under Mr. Putnam’s leadership, the trustees made a commitment to relocate the school. In the fall of 1968, the school moved from the 13-acre Nelson Road facility to the “new” campus, a five-building complex situated on 231 acres on Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna.

In June 1977, Mr. Putnam concluded 16 years of leadership and was succeeded by W. Boulton Dixon, teacher, coach and administrator from The Haverford School in Philadelphia, who administered a staff of more than 80 and a student body of 600. In the school year 1986-87, the school celebrated its 75th anniversary with special events culminating in a gala celebration and with the release of the school’s first published history. Mr. Dixon concluded ten years of distinguished leadership that same year.

The 1987-88 school year saw leadership from interim headmaster Dr. Richard M. Garten. In the summer of 1988, Douglas W. MacKelcan Jr., former headmaster at the Louisville Collegiate School, became Academy’s sixth headmaster. Coeducation was introduced into the Lower School for the 1990-91 school year. Implementation of coeducation in all three divisions began in the 1991-92 school year. The first coeducational senior class graduated in 1993.

After the 1995-96 school year, Mr. MacKelcan left to become headmaster of Durham Academy in Durham, N.C. His immediate successor was Dr. Timothy Burns, a former Academy faculty member in the 1970s, who returned to serve as interim headmaster for 1996-97.

John Mackenzie, former headmaster at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, became the school’s seventh permanent headmaster in July 1997. In the following years, Academy’s enrollment has continued to grow, primarily due to the success of coeducation and the increased number of female students. To help accommodate that growth as well as the need for improved facilities, Academy Hall was opened in the summer of 1999 and the renovation of Morris Hall was completed for the start of the second semester of the 1999-2000 school year.

In 2005, Academy completed the Advancing the Quest campaign in raising $17.5 million. The success of this campaign added $9.5 million to the school’s endowment and provided significant facilities improvements in terms of new additions to the Upper School (Parents Hall), Lower School (Walter Family Education Center), Athletics Entrance and Schoedinger Theatre, as well as extensive interior renovations and exterior site work.

Fully coeducational for more than 20 years, Columbus Academy graduated its first class consisting of more girls than boys in 2007. The school – which promotes a well-rounded experience – has won over 70 state championships in a dozen sports, has students selected for state and national art awards on a yearly basis, and consistently has Central Ohio’s highest percentage of seniors recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Academy has also made significant efforts in recent years to boost its financial aid offerings and to make the school more visible throughout Central Ohio. In May of 2010, Columbus Academy was one of only three schools in the United States selected as a 2010 recipient of a $2 million endowment from the Malone Family Foundation to provide scholarships for top-level students with financial need. With the award, Academy became the only Malone Scholarship School in Ohio and one of just 31 nationwide.

A list of 100 important dates in Columbus Academy's history was featured in the Spring 2011 issue of Academy magazine. To view the online version of that edition, please click here. The school graduated its 100th class in 2013.

On July 1, 2013, Melissa Soderberg became the eighth – and first female – Head of School. Exactly 100 years after Academy's first Commencement, the school celebrated its 101st class. The guest speaker for that ceremony on June 5, 2014, was alumnus Todd Park '90, Chief Technology Officer for the United States.

To see where Columbus Academy is headed in its second century, please click here.
Columbus Academy  4300 Cherry Bottom Road | Gahanna, OH 43230 | 614-475-2311