“Education is the unfolding and perfecting of the human spirit.”
- C. Hanford Henderson
In the summer of 1947, a group of parents came together to create an independent school based on the idea of developing judgment and wisdom. They were searching for democratic education: the education of the individual according to his unique ability. By the spring of 1948 they raised enough money to buy a lovely, wooded campus in Short Hills, with a winding brook and its buildings (some of which still stand). Far Brook School for Nursery through Ninth Grade* was born.
Far Brook School evolved from the Buxton Country Day School, which was established as a nursery through high school in 1928 by Ellen Geer Sangster. Buxton was one of the first progressive schools in New Jersey and the intellectual and spiritual forebear of Far Brook. Buxton and the education it offered were grounded in a child’s active, hands-on involvement in his or her education. In 1947 Mrs. Sangster decided to move Buxton’s Senior School to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to an estate she had inherited from her father.
Winifred Moore, who had been Director of Buxton’s Lower School, was selected to be the first Director of Far Brook School, serving from 1948 until her retirement in 1973. Under Mrs. Moore, much of what defines Far Brook as the school it is today came into being. Her contributions range from the mundane – she had the buildings painted red – to the truly sublime – she wrote The Roots of Excellence, an eloquent statement of the Far Brook philosophy of education, which is still frequently quoted and is available to parents in the library.
Mrs. Moore’s vision of education was rooted in ideas as disparate as those of John Dewey, Lewis Mumford, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein, and Albert Schweitzer. She believed that children should never be talked down to, that they should always be exposed to excellence, and that they become what they do and what they cherish. The Far Brook traditions instituted during Mrs. Moore’s directorship reflect her deep respect for the power of metaphor. The Thanksgiving Processional and and the performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater commemorate ceremonies of common human experience, of rejoicing in the bounty of the harvest and the rebirth that spring brings. “To become worthy tradition,” Mrs. Moore wrote, “our plays and our pageants have to recreate something universal, great subject matter. This is what educates children. We are united in something greater than ourselves, symbolic of all experience.” Under Mrs. Moore, the presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream alternating with The Tempest by the graduating class was instituted, as was much of the curriculum.
After Mrs. Moore’s retirement, the School was headed by several interim and short-term directors. During this period, Far Brook experienced difficulties. The School’s budget was in the red, and enrollment declined.
In 1979 Mary Wearn Wiener, who had taught at Far Brook since 1966, was appointed Director by the Board of Trustees, whose members had recognized her leadership qualities, commitment to and passion for Far Brook School. During her tenure, the School experienced a renaissance. Far Brook grew to over 200 students. Faculty salaries were improved, and faculty pensions were instituted. Far Brook gained a reputation for innovative curriculum, dynamic teaching, and an unusually creative and caring learning environment. Mrs. Wiener’s emphasis was always on making sure that Far Brook remained true to its unique and inspiring mission. Working with the Board of Trustees, Mrs. Wiener developed a long-range plan for the School that included building an endowment and improving the campus facilities.
During this period, several buildings were constructed including the Ruth and Max Segal Family Library; the Middle School (which bears her name); computer and science labs; and the Administration building. The Laurie Arts Center and the Junior High building were renovated. A new playground was built by parents, faculty, and friends. Moore Hall was enlarged and improved in 2003. At the time of Mrs. Wiener’s retirement as Head of Far Brook School in 2006, the endowment had grown to over $3,600,000.
In 2006, Murray E. Lopdell-Lawrence became the next Head of School. During his tenure, Mr. Lopdell-Lawrence worked with the Board of Trustees to establish a Strategic Plan for the School and expanded professional development for the faculty. Technology was significantly upgraded and a new website was created. A new After-School Program was implemented to support the needs of working parents, the Old Library was renovated in 2007, and the Segal Family Library collection was culled and enhanced. The School’s Wetlands habitat was restored, forming a wonderful outdoor classroom for all grades.
On July 1, 2010, Far Brook welcomed Amy M. Ziebarth as Far Brook’s new Head of School. Ms. Ziebarth’s background in independent education and executive leadership brings a distinctive perspective to this School of uncommon quality as it continues in its evolution. Her mission is to understand and retain the essence and core of our remarkable School and to nurture and strengthen it, in order to pass it on to the future generations who will continue the work of ensuring quality in Education.
Far Brook today continues to nurture each child’s curiosity and creativity and maintains our emphasis on community, on nature, and on the exposure it provides young people to great literary and artistic works.
– Adapted and updated from alumni parent Linda George’s Brief History, printed in Far Brook’s 50th Anniversary Program.
* Far Brook’s last Ninth Grade was the Class of 1982.