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The History of TCS

The History of Tucson Community School

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TCS has embraced constructivist learning since its inception in 1948. After only a year of planning, and without knowing who would head the school or staff it, Ruth Davis and a few other parents including artists, professors, lawyers, and business people formed TCS, a non-profit school. Parents threw themselves into adding two rooms to an existing small structure on an acre of desert land. They heeded advice from educators who suggested that they spend their money on hiring teachers rather than a building. And they themselves learned the ins and outs of running a school through hands-

-on experience. In the midst of the struggle to build and sustain their school, the founders also decided not to discriminate based on race, color, national, or ethnic origin. It would be six more years before the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education. Since then, TCS has become more and more of a reflection of the larger community in its diversity, offering scholarships and making it easier for working parents to send their kids to TCS and be part of the TCS community. 

     Just as the founding parents of the school worked together to build its first brick and mortar location (which later gave way to several other locations before finding the school’s current Hedrick Drive home in 1953), the children at TCS have always experimented with building (and deconstructing) structures as a group, as is shown in the photo below. Many parents to this day watch their 3-year-olds proudly and with difficulty lift large wooden blocks to create structures with their classmates much as the students pictured many years ago.  

    The teachers at TCS have always been a key ingredient in maintaining a philosophy of child-centered learning through play, crafts, and limited direct instruction. The first two teachers, Charlotte Wagner and Barbara Nichols, were recruited from the northeast in the tradition of the Bank Street School. Ms. Wagner had taught at the Little Red School House, and had a wide range of experience as a librarian, teacher, and doing case work. She believed strongly in John Dewey’s idea that “education is a process of living and the school must represent life.” But she did not know exactly what she was in for:

“When I arrived, I was taken out to see this small building in the middle of the desert—it was unfinished. I said ‘You expect me to turn this into a school?’ It was a tiny shack without a tree anywhere. I was really shocked. And the first time I had to kill a scorpion... But we were held together by the parents’ dream...They made things happen.”

     It seems that there was also a channel of communication running directly between parents and Ms. Wagner from the very beginning as parents made suggestions about field trips and Ms. Wagner explained her teaching philosophies. As early as 1949, the duck that is part of TCS’s current logo was a creature that made its way into the curriculum and onto the property. 

     When Ms. Wagner left to pursue a more lucrative teaching job in the northeast, the school went through some tough times, struggling to find a permanent location and consistent leadership.  It was during that time that Terry Goddard, who later became mayor of Phoenix and Attorney General of Arizona, attended.

      Another influential figure in TCS’s history was Mary Frobisher, who served as director from 1955-1968 when TCS had arrived on Hedrick Dr. She had been a Professor of Education, had many ties to the University of Arizona, and was heavily involved in community-building efforts in Tucson outside of TCS. Even in 1957, when some of these pictures were taken, a local newspaper photographer refused to take pictures of black and white students together, prompting one board member and parent to proclaim “This is the way to integration in America!”

     In 1963, the atypical climber (pictured below) that still remains a staple of TCS outdoor play, was built.  During this time parents were included at staff meetings, continuing the tradition of direct lines of communication between parents and teachers, making sure that parents too were educated.  The 50’s and 60’s were also a time of expansion as many parents like the Udalls, Goddards, Bahtis, Wrights, Van Slykes, and Eisenbergs began to make names for themselves in the larger community. Authors Byrd Baylor and Ann Nolan Clark were also involved with the school at this time when enrollment doubled.

     Dr. Frobisher’s sister, Kay Ruse, came from Smith College Lab School to TCS in the 50’s, and was instrumental in creating a science curriculum. Long before water play was codified in DAP (what is this?), she encouraged investigations with this and other raw materials. She taught that “when one enters childrens’ play.. one changes it. We won’t know what they can do until we stand back and observe”.  Here she is shown doing just that.

Kay Ruse began the 25-year tradition building an adobe house, as seen below. 

And it was during her tenure that beloved teacher Cheryl Lazaroff began working at TCS in 1977, retiring in 2017.

     Ms. Ruse retired at age 80 in 1988.  In 1991 the school received NAEYC accreditation, and many capable individuals have risen to the occasion to fill the roles of teachers, director, and parents. These have included alumnae who either enroll their children or work at TCS.


     As new students and parents make TCS a part of their community, the school will continue to evolve and parents will continue to collaborate with teachers and staff at the school, learning from and supporting one another.  The 73-year-old roots from which TCS has sprung still require fertilization and renewal of resources to remain vibrant. 

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