School History

About AC

School History


This school history was compiled by Head of School, Don Fournier, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the school. It is shared here in celebration of our legacy as Ecuador’s American International School and in memory of Mr. Fournier.


In 1958, Quito, though the capital of the nation, was a small and somewhat isolated town. The population was only a fragment of its present size. In many ways Quito was the quiet commercial center that served the hillside farmlands and fertile valleys surrounding it.

It was in this year that a large mission from the American government was sent to work with the Ecuadorian government. There were many branches of this mission.  Many of the people associated with these missions were State Department and military personnel directly related to the U. S. Embassy. Others came under what was former President Truman's "Four Point Program" to help developing nations in health, education, agriculture and communications programs. These programs later developed into the present day A.I.D. program.

This influx of personnel, working with the Ecuadorian government in many varied capacities, comprised a new population of Americans and their dependents. These families realized that there was a tremendous need for the education of their children. Quito lacked schools that could provide an education comparable to the schools in the U.S.  Colegio Americano had no International Section at that time, either.

Out of this concern and need, the mothers of this new group began planning. The need for their "own" school became evident. Many of the mothers were involved in the founding of the school, but Mrs. Alice Conger, the wife of an Embassy employee, became the driving force behind the establishment of the school that was given the name of Cotopaxi Academy.

Mrs. Conger was asked to be the first director. Classes were held in the homes of the parents in these first few months of 1958. The school population was only twenty students ranging from grades one through eight. The teachers of this noble beginning were the mothers themselves.

As it became apparent that Cotopaxi Academy was fulfilling the educational needs of the students, enrollment grew. In that first year the school set up shop in a building called the Ecuadorian-American Center located on Avenida 6 de Diciembre. This building no longer exists, but it provided classroom space. Cotopaxi Academy was well underway.  Though education was based on the traditional American system, the quality of education during these first years was quite good.  The curriculum was derived from the Calvert Correspondence System combined with courses from the University of Nebraska.

As more students enrolled, the first Board of Directors was elected. The Board made the decision during the 1959-1960 school year to rent a large house on the corner of Avenida de los Estadios, now called Naciones Unidas, and El Salvador. The rooms were converted and equipped as classroom facilities. Although little of the original structure stands, the site of the first “real” Cotopaxi Academy has remained the same to this day. A home was found for Cotopaxi Academy in which change and growth has taken place over the years.

Even from its earliest days as a school, Cotopaxi and the founders had definite directions, desires and ideas that have been adhered to for its entire history.  Cotopaxi has remained true to its aim of providing excellent education in an international setting based upon the most current American educational developments.

Provisions were made for Spanish language instruction during the four-year directorship of Mrs. Alice Conger. Mrs. Fanny de Fierro became the first full-time Spanish teacher, later followed by Mrs. Wilma Naranjo, who retired from Cotopaxi Academy. At this time, Mrs. Margaret Redin started teaching.

The Board of Directors in 1965 made a decision to provide an equal pay scale for both nationals and those hired in the U.S.  This decision, unique among international schools in South America, has created good will between the school and the host government.

Under the leadership of Mrs. Alice Conger, many strong, basic and long-reaching educational developments were made. The beginnings of the library were established. Qualified teachers wore brought in from the U.S.  Above all, a policy of austerity was started that later allowed for the growth of the plant facility. This decision made by the Board of Directors at that time later provided the finances for the space needed for increased enrollment.

During the middle 60's a wing was constructed for classroom space to contain an ever-increasing school population. The purchase of the original house, plus the adjacent lot, which now is the outdoor basketball court, is the site of the present gym and soccer field.

The Board of Directors made the decision to keep the school at an enrollment of approximately 225 students and also limit the school to grades one through nine.  The School was in a constant financial struggle during these early years.  Col. Sam Hogan, who served on the Board in 1966 and was elected President of the Board in 1967, recalls, "There was a continual question of whether expansion should be made. We were uncertain about the status of the U.S.A.I.D. mission. The Board of Directors always decided upon expansion.  The Board also decided to bring directors from the States. Mrs. Dorothy Campbell, Ms. Leah Hearne and Mr. Charles Hornby held directorships during those years of growth in curriculum, enlargement of classroom facilities and growth in student numbers.

Under the Directorship of Mrs. Felda Hockstetler, during the 1968-1969 school year, the Board reversed a previous decision. It was decided to extend the school to twelve grades and the construction of the three-story high school building was completed. Student enrollment at this time reached a maximum of close to 350 students.

A fascinating human-interest story concerning the type of people involved with Cotopaxi Academy was the work of Mr. Ben Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein served as President of the Board of Directors for a short time during the late 1960's. Den Bernstein, at that time, organized many local artisans under a cooperative, non-profit organization. Through Mr. Bernstein's help, many Indian artists were trained in developing and marketing their typical products. This cooperative was called OCEPA. It became a highly successful means of helping the craftsmen in Quito and the surrounding highland areas. OCEPA was later placed under the management of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture.

OCEPA continues today helping many local artisans and is a reminder of the legacy of cooperation of those who passed through the Cotopaxi community.

In the early 1970's, under the directorship of Mr. Fred Bock, many educational exchanges were established enabling the school to remain aware of changes and developments in U.S. education. The "School-to-School Exchange Program" between the Amherst-Pelham School District and Cotopaxi was established. This program is still in full swing. In fact, through the "School-to-School Program", Director Don Fournier was able to set up a two-week seminar bringing Dr. John Ciesluk, an expert in teaching computer programming in the elementary grades, to the Cotopaxi Computer Center this year.

Due to a withdrawal of many American business people and a decrease in the population of the international community in the middle 70’s, enrollment at Cotopaxi Academy dropped drastically. The fact that the high school was closed for the year prior to the arrival of Director Fournier demonstrates the problems that Don Fournier faced upon his arrival at Cotopaxi Academy.

In 1977, Donald A. Fournier arrived in Quito from a position as superintendent of Schools in Belmont, Massachusetts.  Upon arrival at his new job, he saw a myriad of problems within the school. There were only 78 registered students from pre-kinder through eighth grade. New ideas and policies needed to be instituted. New plant facilities and educational materials had to be acquired. New qualified teachers had to be attracted, and the existing faculty at the school had to be supported in attempts to revitalize outdated classroom procedures.

One of Dr. Fournier’s first acts was to insist that all new teachers have teacher certification in their special area. Although this is not required by many international schools, the Board of Directors supported him wholeheartedly.  Don Fournier also enhanced faculty abilities by expanding the University of Alabama Graduate Program to provide opportunities to obtain majors in five different areas of education. The Alabama Graduate Program was extended to allow teachers working at Cotopaxi to receive advanced degree certificates, including doctoral degrees in selected educational areas. Many of the Cotopaxi faculty are currently involved in this program.

After a remodeling of the existing school site, more classrooms were developed and the high school reopened in November of 1978. At that time, the library was what now is the elementary library, holding approximately 9,O0O books for elementary and Junior High students. In 1978 a section was added. Two years later a new addition was built and the elementary and secondary libraries were separated. The collection of books has grown at a rate of 1,000 books per year. Presently we have approximately 16,000 volumes. Hundreds of filmstrips, videotapes and other audio-visual materials have been added in the last 5 years. This was only Dr. Fournier's second year as director.

In the last few years of Don Fournier’s directorship at Cotopaxi Academy, the enrollment has averaged 650 students. How was this accomplished? Well, nothing comes easily, especially in an overseas international school. There has been much hard work and dedication on the part of our director, the Board of Directors, and especially the many teachers who provide the high quality of education. To prove this fact, Dr. Paul Orr, on a fact-finding mission evaluating all U.S. sponsored schools in 1981, gave a rating of excellent to Cotopaxi Academy.

First of all, though, there have been major remodeling projects. In 1980 two antiquated squash courts were converted to 3rd grade and ESL classrooms and an art room. Let's not forget the beautiful, spacious kinder/pre-kinder annex that all the children love so much that was just opened this past school year. In 1982 new music rooms were added. The room for regular music instruction (provided at every grade level) was relocated and expanded.

In fact, this is a fine time to speak of the development of instrument instruction at Cotopaxi Academy. The program has grown from one part-time music teacher, Mrs. Jane Quintero, in 1977 to two full-time instrumental instructors, Mr. Jerry Thornburg and Mr. Jay Byron. Cotopaxi's music program, of course, has a full-time classroom instructor, Ms. Peggy Nadalich. With voice lessons and choir by Ms. Anne White and Jaime Redin giving guitar lessons, there's a lot of music at the School.

In 1977 Don Fournier insisted on instrumental instruction. The parents were delighted at the end of that first school year with Cotopaxi's first instrumental concert. Each year this has expanded under the tutelage of the talented people in the Music Department to include full orchestra, band, choir, group ensemble, and more. The Christmas concerts at Cotopaxi are full of holiday spirit.

Another fine program developed in the past three years has been the Cotopaxi Academy Computer Center. The Computer Center functions in the programming of both beginner and advanced computer languages at the high school, middle school and primary levels.  The Computer I Course consists of an accelerated study of BASIC (Beginners' All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). Our Computer II Course concentrates on two advanced languages: FORTRAN and PASCAL. The Computer Center also features a student club and a computer workshop for adults. Cotopaxi Academy is proud of the efforts in the last few years to stay abreast of the most modern educational developments.

The 1982-1983 school year has been the most innovative growth period since the founding of the school. First, several programs have been expanded to better serve our student population. The Guidance Department added the abilities of Dr. Ed Holmes to work strictly with the Secondary School. Dr. Holmes is helping find the proper college or university to fit the needs of our graduating students. In 1982-83 90% of Cotopaxi Academy's graduates went on to higher education.

The culmination of the expansion of a program started many years ago by Dr. Fournier concerns ESL (English as a Second Language). This highly essential program for the development of our non-English speaking students was found to be totally inadequate in 1977. The problem was obvious, the solutions difficult. Better materials, more concentration on new methods, better classroom environments and more highly trained people had to be acquired. The Board of Directors also felt this need and complied with the rebuilding of the ESL Department. There are now seven school-wide ESL specialists maintaining a practice of constant communication to fulfill the unique needs of students.

Other changes in the last few seasons have been the fully computerized accounting system for billing and payments. A most important development for the safety of our students has been the concentration upon the security of Cotopaxi students. The busses all have a responsible adult supervising bus students to and from school. There now are around-the-clock security guards, alarm systems and a security fence added to the perimeter of the campus.

Three events have been the crowning glory of the latest developments of Cotopaxi Academy during the 1982-1984 school season. First, the highest rating of accreditation given by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was awarded to the school. The SACS evaluation team cited the Language Arts Department and ESL as outstanding.  Another accolade bestowed upon the school happened in September of 1982.  The Ecuadorian Ministry of Education gave recognition to Cotopaxi Academy. This honored recognition allows graduating students to attend local universities. The importance of this recognition to students who wish to attend university in Ecuador is obvious.

A final event took place after much hard work on the part of the whole school throughout 1982-1983.  That is the adoption of the International Baccalaureate Program by the school. This system, which includes certification in Spanish, English, Math, Science, etc., has been the talk of schools throughout the world. Located in Geneva and London, the International Baccalaureate is now being recognized as valid in high schools, not only internationally, but also in the United States. It gives juniors and seniors in high school the opportunity to take advanced courses, which give them advanced placement in universities throughout the world. Cotopaxi Academy is the only International Baccalaureate school in Ecuador. The International Baccalaureate Program is for the secondary school, but the students and teachers in the middle school prepare at their level for the eventual transition into the International Baccalaureate program.

An administrative division was made this year to appoint curriculum coordinators to facilitate the transition in each subject area for middle school students into the International Baccalaureate program. The curriculum coordinators also serve in a cohesive manner instructing and helping the teachers in the various subject areas in following scope and sequence in their various curricula.

It is noted that the founders of the school had always looked to the future.  Those aims and desires of twenty years ago still exist today. The school now is looking educationally to the future. The Board wishes to move the school to a site that would relieve many of the problems with the plant facility as well as security.  This move would enable the school to grow educationally as well. And that is what these 25 years of Cotopaxi Academy history has been all about.