From the Winter 2021 GFA Magazine:
As the Class of 1970 walked the commencement stage at the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School, the campus was on the cusp of a major transition. When the senior class presented its gift to the school — a “Greens Farms Academy” sign — they knew that much more than the name of the school was about to change. Fifty years ago, during the 1970–71 school year, the administration welcomed its very first coeducational class, sparking a cultural shift and the birth of GFA as we know it.
Headmistress Nancy Lauber (Bolton Class of ’51), who oversaw the transition, wrote at the time, “We believe that the different academic interests and viewpoints of boys and girls will cause the elective courses to increase in size and balance, and will therefore provide a more stimulating academic atmosphere for students and faculty members. The extra-curricular program and the social activities of the school will also be strengthened. ... More and more of our graduates will attend coeducational colleges, and all live in a coeducational world.” She also saw a void that needed to be filled: there were no independent high schools for boys in the immediate area.
Ed Denes was a faculty member af the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School at the time, and was initially hesitant about the change. “Having joined the faculty in 1965, at first, I didn’t want it to change. Kathleen Laycock was a perfect school,” he said. “But while one of the reasons to go coed was to get more students and expand the school, the primary reason was both the moral and social point of view — it’s good to have men and women educated together.”
Believing that it would be difficult to attract male students to The Kathleen Laycock Country Day, Lauber and the trustees renamed the school. That September of 1970, 23 young men joined approximately 300 young women on the opening day of Greens Farms Academy.
“There was no push-back. The board agreed. The girls thought it was a great idea,” Lauber laughed. “It was a smooth transition. [Denes] was a great help — he was one of the best hires I’ve ever made. He helped during this time with boys athletics, served as the Dean of Students, and was the Head of the Math and Computer Program and Science Departments.”
From the very beginning, partnership — a hallmark of the GFA experience — was already in motion. Male students were getting in at the ground floor, and piece by piece, in partnership with the faculty, building what they wanted their education to look like.
“I was in a unique position,” shared Norman Marsilius ’72. “As one of the boys in the first graduating class, I was able to discuss policies with faculty. I was able to create sports teams of the sports I wanted to play ... The faculty were genuine in listening to our interests. I had so many new opportunities at GFA because everything was starting from scratch.”
Former Head of School Jim Coyle agreed, but noted the transition to coeducation was slower than they had hoped. The first class included just Marsilius and three other male students. “GFA was just scratching the surface and there was so much to be done. The bathrooms had to be updated, as did the locker rooms. There was no substantial building, and money was tight,” Coyle said.
When Coyle accepted the role as Lauber’s predecessor as Head of School, he noted that Lauber’s impact was one for which the school would be eternally grateful.
“I took over a very strong school. [GFA] owes Lauber a great deal.” But, he noted that there were still hurdles to overcome. “There was trouble attracting male applicants, we had not given the athletics programs the attention it needed, and I wanted to improve the academic standard. With time, we accomplished that.”
Denes pointed out that an uptick in AP courses, the addition of science and locker rooms, and the evolution of several sports teams, all helped to attract more male students and balance out the gender ratio that was nearly 4:1 in the early years.
Kelsey Biggers ’73, who started at GFA in 1970 as a sophomore, said that Coyle himself was a large part of the reason that the newly named Greens Farms Academy had such a successful start.
“In his almost military bearing, it was smart to bring him in and start fresh,” he said. “It was the 70’s — crazy times — and when I enrolled, the school was quite relaxed about letting the culture evolve to accommodate boys. Mr. Coyle sure did put his mark on the school over a couple of years.”
The President of the Class of ’72, Susan Boone Durkee, felt that the addition of boys added depth to the academic and social lives of the students. “The girls enjoyed having the boys there — there were a lot of friendships, some still kept to this day. They were very respectful. Keep in mind, they were outnumbered,” she joked. “It was nice for our school plays because we finally had guys to play the male roles, it was great to see the boys’ sports, and as for inside the classroom itself, they gave the class more backbone. They extended themselves more than a lot of the girls did and we were very receptive to it.”
As the school nears its centennial, it has come a long way from opening its doors in 1925 with one teacher and four female Lower School students. Today GFA enrolls 715 students, 356 of whom are male.