Excerpt of Letter giving historical perspective of Ecolint - a loose configuration of independent schools.

It seems to me that in recent years, there has been a concerted effort on the part of various factions, to eliminate the identity of La Châtaigneraie as a school in its own right. With the passing of time and the movement of parents, the origins of the school are disappearing, and the fact that we appear now to be ‘La Châtaigneraie campus – the International School of Geneva ‘ is more than worrying. The gentle erosion, which seems to have gone unnoticed by the majority of the school population, has now given the Board carte blanche to regard Ecolint and La Châtaigneraie as one school, and organise the reajusting of classes as though this was the case.

For the benefit of parents who have come into the school in recent years, I would like to make the situation clear. In 1975, the Lycée des Nations was a small school sited in Bellevue and rue Schaub, and at La Châtaigneraie as a sub-tenant. It was a flourishing school without a permanent home. At that time, the shareholders – principally parents and teachers - agreed to become part of the Foundation of the International School of Geneva, to be based on the present site, as La Châtaigneraie International School. At the same time, the original U.N. School came under the Foundation umbrella, creating Pregny/Rigot.

From the mid 70’s, under the leadership of Mike Lee, La Châtaigneraie exploded. Full to capacity with a waiting list, it was a happy and successful school. It boasted a young staff (mostly still there, if now a little older !) willing to put time and effort into all aspects of school life – fieldweek, weekend trips, ski weeks and sports activities. Staff turned their hand to painting and repaving the swimming pool, and, organised and ran the original Kermesse when lack of funds had threatened to stop school activities. Our football and ski teams walked away with all the inter-schools cups. Two or three drama productions per year were the norm, and our academic achievements went from strength to strength. Initially we found time for a ski afternoon every week - as a school we skied the Vallée Blanche. The house system flourished . We baked, played chess, painted, ran, swam and organised our sports in a spirit of friendly competition. When ‘school spirit’ flagged at the beginning of the ‘80’s, the students conjoured up the (still celebrated) Spirit Week to put us back on track. Robert Schmoll, our present Primary parent representative, then in the upper school, was the driving force. One of the most positive features was the moment when students, sporting the red and white uniform of the school, organised themselves to spell out the name of La Chât across the (then) central field – and arranged for it to be captured for ever in an arial photograph. The achievements and pride of La Châtaigneraie can be traced through the school yearbooks in the library, especially the years of late 70’s to 80’s. Our Board member Davis Hall, was a student at this time and must remember the vitality which was so much part of the school. Many alumni are still in touch and return often, particularly for the Kermesse – but very few who have already left can associate with the International School of Geneva – Ecolint – which for them represented only our adversary in sports competitions.

Châtaigneraie grew from a school of 200 pupils. It expanded and changed its format, but still retained its autonomy, supported by the staff who had been there for many years. The enthusiasm was carried on by new generations of students, including the sons and daughters of teachers, over the last 20 years, for example messieurs et madames Lee, Peiris, Pasternak, Welton, d’Amico, Curtin, Smith-Gillespie, Curran, Nunn, Wingate, Ritson and Monks, and of ex – students - minis Schmoll, Parker, Esfandiary – to name but a few. This family tradition, though common in the best schools in U.K. and America, is probably unique in International schools. All these students have contributed to the colour and character of La Châtaigneraie, and will go on, together with countless others, to represent ‘us’ across the world. As parents, we were late subscribers, but it was a great pleasure for us to see our children follow the ‘family’ tradition, and we enrolled them in the sure knowledge that they would be receiving the best of educations, even though the size of the school already gave some cause for concern.

It is difficult to pinpoint when the school started to lose its identity. It seemed amost overnight that the famous chestnut tree logo disappeared. The bright red sweatshirts were replaced by maroon or grey – a seemingly unimportant but significant detail. The house T-shirts were replaced by Ecolint blue. The buses were suddenly emblazoned with the International School of Geneva logo. On writing paper and answerphone, La Châtaigneraie got a mention as a ‘campus’. My query about this to a member of the Board brought only the reply – I quote - ‘this is what you have to accept in a merger ‘. What subsequent merger ? Who decided that La Châtaigneraie International School should suddenly disappear as an independent unit sometime in the ‘90’s ?’ – and indeed, who decided the same fate for both Pregny and Rigot schools, who were also autonomous, and unlike Chât, the only section in the Foundation to be totally ‘in the black’ at the time of the original merger ?

In the light of present decisions, the erosion of La Châtaigneraie now seems to read as a long term plan. We appear to have become a pawn in the game, - a unit to be manipulated in terms of financial viability. The recommendation which was stated quite clearly at the time of the 1975 merger, - that the schools should retain their autonomy seems to have been conveniently forgotten. Tradition and roots are of fundamental importance to a school community, and the people who built La Châtaigneraie are enormously proud of it. We would wish it to continue in its present form. Ecolint also has a long tradition, and however hard the powers that be work to the contrary, the children on both sides of the lake, particularly those who have been part of the school since Grade 1 regard themselves as attending totally separate schools. They need an independent identity, and I am certain that however convenient it would be to financially organise things otherwise, most children would be devastated to find themselves uprooted from their school, particularly in the vulnerable years of adolescence and deposited as the youngest and least important members of an amalgamated exam factory in a semi-urban environment. The social and disciplinary implications of such a move do not bear thinking about.

In a society where the greatest problem facing our children socially , educationally and emotionally, is a sense of rootlessness, it is vital that we should establish stable and easily identifiable units to which children can belong, ideally from their earliest schooling through to adolescence. It is the very least that we as parents can provide, having precipitated the next generation into the International environment of our choosing. La Châtaigneraie has long been established as such a unit. Why, therefore, are ‘we’ – the Board, consisting of our democratically elected parent representatives, even considering the possibility of fragmenting this tradition ? We should be building a further structure to support our children – not seeking to destroy the existing one.

I have deliberately not mentioned the obvious practical difficulties which would be experienced by parents trying to split families between campuses, or the chaos which would ensue with an augmented traffic flow into Geneva from Vaud in the morning rush hour. This is all self evident, and in my opinion, totally secondary to the ‘crime’ of administering the final coup de grace to a much loved and respected school.

I would urge the Board not only to take into consideration the history of the various units of the Foundation, but to give a very serious hearing to the opinions of concerned parents, teachers and students before deciding upon the future of the fourth ‘campus’.

Return home to newcampus