100 Years of Excellence

Keith Country Day School History – Celebrating our Centennial Year

From small beginnings, Keith Country Day School has grown in size and reputation. The school was organized in Rockford in 1916, when Belle Emerson Keith opened the doors of her home on North Main Street to a group of eight children. Mrs. Keith was a nationally acclaimed artist, a neo-impressionist, who traveled the world and studied different schools looking for “the ideal environment for developing children.” She did not consider it sound education to make every child perform at the same level of proficiency when, in reality, their abilities and talents were all different. In Mrs. Keith’s mind, schools and teachers should “center” upon a child’s strengths and resources, stressing what is good in the child, while strengthening areas of concern. As one of Rockford’s pioneering progressive leaders, she questioned whether local schools offered a well-rounded curriculum. Given her artistic persuasion, she believed that the fine, creative, and performing arts motivated and stimulated children while offering many the opportunity to be successful in settings outside the normal classroom activities.Unbeknownst to Mrs. Keith at the time, this small group of eight students and three instructors would mark the foundation of a preparatory school that would provide students opportunities of individualism and creativity for the next 100 years.

The first Headmistress of the school was Miss Nancy Philbrick, formerly of the Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York. Mrs. Keith never led the school herself; she owned it. By the end of the second year, an enrollment of 27 boys and girls necessitated acquiring larger quarters which was accomplished by remodeling the old homestead adjoining the Keith property. By the end of the seventh year, the school had outgrown its buildings, and Mrs. Keith succeeded in acquiring the Shoudy Home – The Big House – on North Second Street. The school was operated as a proprietary venture from 1915 to 1943. When Miss Philbrick died, Mr. Hinchliff, Mrs. Keith’s nephew, purchased the school from his aunt and donated it to Rockford College at which time it became the teaching/laboratory school for the Education and Teacher Training Department. In 1965, Keith Country Day School split from Rockford College to form its own independent school, serving children from pre-kindergarten through ninth grade. Seven additional acres adjacent to the North Second Street property were donated to the school in 1969.

In 1970, the decision to expand Keith and form a college-preparatory upper school was finalized, and two new buildings were constructed in 1971: an Upper School academic building and a gymnasium. The Big House was demolished.

In 1998, Keith became the first school in Illinois to develop a comprehensive laptop computer program for the students in grades 6 through 12. Always striving to stay ahead of technology, the school has since become a wireless campus. Classrooms host SmartBoards to enhance academic activities, and parents now have access to NetClassroom so they can monitor their son or daughter’s achievement results in real time.

In 2000, the Rhea Building for students from pre-kindergarten through second grade was added to the campus. Since then, the Ryan Family Theatre, a lower school science lab, additions to the Gaylord Commons, and a new resource room all have been added to the facilities.

Today, Keith provides educational opportunities for students from ages three through grade 12. The school prides itself in attracting highly-qualified teachers from all over the world. The dedicated people who founded and supported the school designed a firm base for a liberal arts education. Since then, generations of dedicated educators who share commitment to academic excellence and the student-centered philosophy of education have guided the school’s progress.