branson

 Baby Blue Cedar
 View from Residence Hall towards the school entrance, ca. 1930's. Note the young blue cedar tree on the right, which now towers over the campus.
Although the official date for the establishment of The Branson School is 1920, its roots go back to 1916, when 15 Marin families combined forces to start a local school for their children. In 1917, The Little Grey School opened its doors on the Cochrane Estate in San Rafael, California, next to what is now the San Rafael Public Library.

In April 1920, Miss Katharine Fleming Branson, a teacher at Miss Beard's School in Orange, New Jersey, was appointed headmistress, and the trustees renamed the school in her honor. The Katharine Branson School officially opened on September 6, 1920, with 51 students enrolled in grades 1 to 11. The next year the school added a kindergarten and a 12th grade, and in 1922 moved to its present campus in Ross. At its inception the school included boys in the lower grades, but in the ensuing years the lower grades were discontinued, boys were no longer enrolled, and the residential campus grew until finally, in 1959, The Katharine Branson School became a secondary school for both day and boarding students.
 Miss Katherine Branson
 Miss Katharine Branson
 
 
In 1972, the Board of Trustees established Mount Tamalpais School, a day school for boys on the Katharine Branson School campus. MTS, with the same academic standards and basic philosophy as KBS, also shared a common board of trustees, faculty, and administrative staff. In January 1978, after extensive deliberation, the trustees decided to accept no further applications from resident students. In recognition of the fully coeducational nature of The Katharine Branson School and Mount Tamalpais School, the trustees, in July of 1985, united the two schools under the name The Branson School.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

School Heads

Katharine Fleming Branson (1920-1951)Katherine Branson
 
A woman of extraordinary energy and indomitable will, Miss Branson joined with the founders to develop a boarding school dedicated to traditional standards of excellence and with the clear purpose of preparing Branson girls to go off and “take an active and intelligent part” in the world around them. Presiding over the School nearly from its inception, as a patrician with an uncompromising demand for excellence Miss Branson brought a seriousness of purpose and a dignity that served as the animating themes of the school then known as The San Rafael School for Girls. A cum laude graduate of Bryn Mawr, Miss Branson led the renamed girls’ school for two years until it shed its confining and unfashionable location in downtown San Rafael for the rolling hills and serene valley in Fernhill Park in Ross. Miss Branson’s leadership spanned the early years of struggle, the tumultuous 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, and the prosperity of the early postwar years. She assembled a faculty devoted to bringing the best out of students and shaping them into citizens with compassion and sensitivity, equipped to meet the challenges before them. Her stewardship took Branson from an inchoate idea to a secure, stable institution that maintained a clear pursuit of academic excellence and achieved national recognition as one of the West’s leading girls’ boarding schools. After her retirement to Carmel, and owing to her devotion to the School, Miss Branson would return in the fall of 1961 and serve as Acting Headmistress following the sudden illness of Miss Dorothy Clement, who had been appointed Acting Headmistress following the resignation of Mrs. Virginia Jennings that summer. 
Laura Branson Laura Elizabeth Branson (1920-1926)

Co-head of the school during its formative years in San Rafael and Ross, Laura arrived at Branson with her sister in the summer of 1920 after a short but distinguished career as Head of the Department of Mathematics at Rosemary Hall and teacher at the Shipley School. A cum laude graduate of Bryn Mawr like her older sister, Laura also taught both mathematics and science before her departure from Branson in 1926. Relocating to England, where she attended the London School of Economics, Laura would later return to the states and become a leading figure in New York City school reform alongside her husband, the noted educator and teachers’ union leader Henry Richardson Linville. Laura would serve as Executive Secretary of the NY Teachers’ Guild of the nascent American Federation of Teachers throughout the 1930s, while her husband Henry served as President of the new AFT. 
George Tyrrell George Tyrrell (1951-1954)

George Tyrrell brought with him experience as the Academic Head at the Foxcroft School, where he had served under the legendary Charlotte Haxall Noland, its founder and president for more than a half century. A native of the United Kingdom, where he was born in 1899, Tyrrell held a B.S degree in mathematics from the University of London and was a veteran of the African campaign in World War II in the tank corps. During Tyrrell’s years as head the School faced serious financial hardships but nevertheless managed the purchase of Carruthers House, which trustees, faculty and students renamed New House, and steadily expanded enrollment of both day and resident students, particularly after the Board rescinded its long-time policy of not permitting San Francisco girls to attend as commuter day students.
Virginia Jennings Virginia Lee Story Jennings (1955-1961)

Virginia Jennings served as history teacher and Dean of Studies before she was named to replace George Tyrrell in the winter of 1955. Born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, in 1909, she had received an A.B. cum laude from Radcliffe in history and had traveled extensively and taught for several years at The Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, before arriving at the Katharine Branson School in 1951. A woman of strong administrative ability and personal charm, she was a generous and steady influence on students and faculty. During her tenure the School added the study hall and new dining hall, began drawing plans for the renovation of the science classrooms, and also discontinued 8th grade and became a 9-12 secondary school exclusively. After leaving Branson in the summer of 1961, Mrs. Jennings became headmistress at the Marlborough School in Los Angeles.
David Jackson David Jackson (1962-1966)

Following a successful career as teacher and administrator at Fountain Valley School, where he had been Acting Headmaster prior to accepting his appointment to become Branson’s fourth head, David Jackson took the reins in the fall of 1962. A graduate of Williams College, Jackson set out to meet the challenges facing a boarding school in the early 1960s, when cultural change and mounting social and political tumult threatened institutions across America. Jackson, a man of compassion and with a special concern for youth, placed great emphasis upon personal excellence, strengthened the faculty, and sought ways to invigorate the traditional curriculum, and in the process School enrollment jumped to the largest its history, with 171 students in the fall of 1964. Modernizing continued during Jackson’s tenure with the construction of two buildings on campus for teacher housing and the completion of the new dining hall at the entrance to the campus. In 1966 David Jackson would depart to accept the leadership of the newly established Santa Fe Preparatory School in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
H.L. Richardson H.L. Richardson (1966-1982)

A product of Phillips Academy and Yale with a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Harold Leonard “Len” Richardson had been Headmaster of The Scarborough School in New York before his arrival at Branson in 1966. Richardson’s service to Branson witnessed the most dramatic expansion of academics and physical change in the School’s long history. Under his stewardship the Arts and Science building was erected, the creek relocated and the present-day soccer field created, Crossways was enlarged, New House was renovated, two new tennis courts were added and a parking lot constructed, the Jewett Auditorium and library were created from the old Residence Hall, construction of a new gym was begun, and, finally and most significantly, the School became a co-educational one with the opening of Mt. Tamalpais School for Boys alongside the traditional all-girls’ school on the Ross campus in 1972. In addition, during Richardson’s long tenure a formal scholarship program was instituted, high standards of academic excellence were continued, a Cum Laude chapter was established at Branson, efforts to expand diversity in the student body were emphasized, the number of advanced placement courses was increased, and greater stress was placed upon improvements in faculty compensation. Mr. Richardson also led the expansion of faculty to meet the new needs of the School and built an effective campaign to revive Branson’s classical liberal arts educational tradition in his long and successful tenure as head of school. 
Thomas Hudnut Thomas Hudnut (1982-1987)

A graduate of Choate, Princeton University, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Tom Hudnut arrived at Branson in the summer of 1982 after seven years as a Latin and history teacher and dean at St. Alban’s School in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and a tenure as Headmaster at The Norwood School in Bethesda, Maryland. Hudnut set out to define the challenges to Branson’s continued excellence and establish priorities for confronting those many challenges in the 1980s: under his leadership the School retired its debt and gave greater emphasis to fundraising and internal management. Hudnut strengthened the Annual Giving and Capital campaigns and the financial stability of the institution, and he helped transform the School, further strengthening the academic and athletic programs and leading a revival of the performing arts on campus. Thomas Hudnut’s tenure witnessed the now fully coordinated coeducational school re-named The Branson School following Katharine Branson’s death in 1985, and he oversaw the continued expansion to 320 students before departing in 1987 to assume the leadership of the distinguished Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles.
Richard P. Fitzgerald Richard P. Fitzgerald (1988-2001)

Branson’s seventh Headmaster, appointed in 1988, Richard Fitzgerald had previously served as Head of School at the Little Red School House and Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City. Educated at the University of Notre Dame, where he earned his B.A, he also attended the University of Virginia before embarking upon a teaching career at Collegiate School in New York City and the Leys School in Cambridge, England. He became Head of Branson following a year in which Coreen Ruiz Hester served as interim head while the School searched for its new leader. During Fitzgerald’s tenure as Head of School Branson continued to expand its arts program and its pursuit of academic excellence. Under his leadership the School developed new curricular opportunities and completed a major capital campaign, which led to classroom renovations and technological initiatives. Upon his departure in 2001 the School conducted a national search for his successor while relying once again upon an acting head, Jane B. Ross, who, as assistant head under Mr. Fitzgerald, assumed the role of interim head and served in that capacity in 2001-02. Ms. Ross helped guide the search to find the School’s eighth headmaster.
Paul Druzinsky Paul Druzinsky (2002-2004)

Paul Druzinsky, Branson’s eighth Head of School, arrived in 2002 after serving as Associate Head at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut for six years. Upon earning his B.A. from Claremont McKenna College, Druzinsky taught drama at the Francis Parker School in Chicago for nine years and had been Upper School Principal at St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Jackson, Mississippi. Warm and soft-spoken, Druzinsky offered a calming and collaborative leadership style. His tenure at Branson saw initiatives to revive the traditional Honor Code and renewed efforts to develop stronger notions of character and integrity at the School in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Thomas W. Price Thomas W. Price (2006- present)

Following an exhaustive two-year search for its new head, Branson named Thomas W. “Woody” Price as its ninth headmaster in the spring of 2006. A summa cum laude graduate of Lake Forest College with a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Price had extensive experience as headmaster of Cambridge Friends School in Massachusetts, Abington Friends School in Pennsylvania, and The Isadore Newman School in New Orleans before taking the helm at Branson. Branson was already engaged in a major capital campaign led by his predecessor as Acting Headmaster, Peter Esty, and Dr. Price adeptly led the successful conclusion of that campaign and the completion of new buildings across campus, including a modern, environmentally-sustainable dining hall and the long-anticipated new arts building. Under Price’s leadership Branson has expanded its technology initiatives, continued its efforts to strengthen and sustain the School’s mission, and taken the lead among American schools in its “green initiative” that culminated in the creation of the sustainable dining hall, Maxwell Music Hall, and the new sculpture and digital media centers.

 Raking Leaves
 Raking leaves in the 1950s beneath Res Hall

Branson Facts

The school was originally begun by a group of parents as an elementary school.  It became a dedicated high school in 1959.
 
The Mt Tamalpais School, established in 1972, was a boys' school just using the upper campus for their first year in operation while the girls went to classes down the hill.  That arrangement didn't make sense because the faculty were teaching both the boys and the girls. 

In a rare display of unequal treatment, the boys were allowed to continue without a uniform when the schools merged, but the girls still had to wear their ginghams until the faculty, board, and alums were persuaded otherwise.
 
The last year for boarding students living on campus was 1981.