In celebration of the Community School of Naples’ 25th anniversary, we asked some of the school’s founders to look back at how this institution went from 30 students its first year to 810 this year, and how it has become such an integral part of our community.
FINDING A PERMANENT HOME
By Clarke Swanson
In the beginning, the Community School had no permanent home. Rather, it was located at various church facilities: Trinity-By-The-Cove Church, the United Church of Christ and the First United Methodist Church.
As the original chairman of the Community School, it was my mission to find the site and the funds to build a permanent home for the school. At that time, a 40-acre site came to my attention. It was located down a dirt road, east of Airport Road. That dirt road subsequently became the eastern extension of Pine Ridge Road.
Initially, I visited the property with Judy Sproul, who became a wonderful partner in building the school. We exited the car, climbed over a sandy irrigation berm and trudged through the property. We were particularly interested in the site because we knew of the county’s plans to extend Pine Ridge Road east to connect with I-75, then under construction.
After walking around the property, we were convinced that we had found the future site for the Community School. We agreed then and there that we would jointly underwrite the purchase of the land and raise the rest of the money from the community. That’s why the school was named the Community School.
OUR LOVE AND LABOR CONTINUE
By Judy Collier Sproul
It was fun to work with Clarke, a man who does not take "no" for an answer. We were both committed to making CSN happen. Another person who worked tirelessly was Joe Fernandez, who was in charge of the construction. Raising the money was a real challenge, as we did not want the land to be mortgaged for fear that it might be lost.
It is with great feelings of gratitude to all that I now go on campus and observe my granddaughter in kindergarten. It is a thrill to see how much has been done through the dedication of the parents that followed us, and to see how much the campus has grown.
By Thomas Campbell Jr.
In the early 1980s, Naples was still a bit of a frontier when it came to private school education. At the time, there were not a lot of parents who thought that it was important. As Naples grew, more people arrived who believed in private school education. Many might not have stayed here without this opportunity for their children.
The initial aim of the school was to create an atmosphere of learning where every child’s potential to blossom would be encouraged. The emphasis was always to have a quality faculty in a loving atmosphere. The hope was that the students would eventually grow wings to fly independently, hence the inception of the Angel Ball, an annual fundraiser for the school.
There are people who did much for the school who will never be credited, but then again no one did it for praise. We did it for the children, who along with the rest of the community, have benefited. What greater reward could any individual have in life, than to have participated in a vision that has positively affected so many lives?
Former Headmaster James Landi
By Anthony Ridgway
In many ways, the former preeminent headmaster James Landi was a very simple man. He saw a task, and he chose to accomplish that goal. He attacked each problem with a passion and an intellectual capacity that only he could sustain. I tried to keep up with him and often came up short.
His drive was fueled by a very simple belief: find the best educators available, ask each of them to perform well beyond their own expectations, make the students feel very special, and create an unparalleled academic environment.
At the time of James’ appointment as headmaster, the school’s priority was to build buildings and hope for a strong academic environment. James reversed this process and demanded we create academic excellence first, and allow the further construction of facilities to follow naturally. Although the concept sounds simple, it was not. At times it was excruciatingly painful. It was always worth the effort because it was for the children. That was the easy part.
A VISION FOR A GROWING NAPLES
By Cindy Toppino Thompson
I remember Clarke Swanson taking me out to the intersection of Airport and Pine Ridge roads to show me where they wanted to build the new school. At the time, Pine Ridge ended at Airport Road. Pointing down this dirt road, Clarke said, "Someday this will be the center of town." It was hard to imagine that at the time, but Clarke’s forecast has proven to be correct.
To raise money in the beginning, we would have bake sales in front of Wynn’s Market. We also had a Christmas bazaar during our first year at the church. Our initial attempt at providing transportation was the trolley, and our first few board meetings were held above Ridgway’s Bar & Grill. I remember one trustee inquiring what we would do should enrollment not reach a specific number. The answer was that we were going forward, no matter how many students were enrolled. I believe we started with 30 students.
OUR QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE
By Roger M. Williams, M.D.
Twenty five years ago no one believed it possible to get the necessary ingredients together for a premium college preparatory program. Surprisingly, there were people who actively resisted our seemingly benign and altruistic endeavor. Frequently it was like riding through Disney’s Space Mountain: flying in the dark, never knowing when you were going to have a sudden lift or a sudden drop. Here we are today: an established campus, with intelligent and articulate graduates, and a reputation for excellence.
THE NAMING PROCESS
By Pat Stranahan
The kudos belong primarily to the early founders who, as risk takers, broke the trail for what followed. Their choice of the name, Community School of Naples, illustrated the initial establishment of a culture that demanded that students, faculty, administrators and parents all work together as a community. This is the mold which still shapes the school’s successful modus operandi.
For those of us who came along later, the continuing spirit of community was the primary factor that attracted us to sending our children to the school. We contribute ourselves to its support as volunteers and financial supporters. To this day that sense of community continues to attract new families and motivates the support that the school receives from every participant.
By Addison Fischer
In 2003 the school purchased 80 acres of land to the north of the campus, and in turn sold half of it; this left the school with 110 acres. In addition to the land we are proud to have the following: a new 55,000-square-foot field house, three regulation basketball courts and a college-sized performance court, and a new upper school building that includes state-of-the-art language and science labs. Our site work includes six tennis courts; two soccer fields—one regulation and one practice; and facilities for the baseball, softball and track teams. Future plans include a performing arts building and a new lower school building.
We didn’t truly understand, at the time, the profound nature of the legacy we have finally succeeded in building. It seems to me that through this school we have changed the world, perhaps dramatically so. Its quality—more precisely, the quality of it graduates—is now recognized by educators across the nation. I believe the children our school has touched and molded will go forward on a life’s journey even the most advanced have really yet only begun and will change the nation and the world.
By John Zeller
The Community School has served a greater mission—one for our entire community. Our work in community service is vital. We wish to graduate complete citizens, aware of and responsive to the needs of others in our world. You would be hard-pressed to find a charitable organization in Collier County that we have not adopted, supported or worked on for their behalf.