A Brief History of
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School &
Its Communities

by James A. Newton - 2002

The towns of Sudbury and Lincoln were first settled by Europeans in the fourth decade of the seventeenth century. Sudbury became a political entity in 1639, but over the years lost territory as other towns were "set off" from it. Lincoln did not become a separate town until 1746, when it was created from portions of Concord, Weston, and Lexington. Both communities remained agricultural towns of Yankee character right down to 1946. During these first three centuries change was slow, and, with the exception of those revolutionary events which occurred between 1765 and 1776, relatively quiet.

Although neither town was strikingly different from the other, Sudbury did have the Post Road routed through it, running from Boston, west to Worcester and Albany and south to Hartford. More than any other single factor, this early mail route, gradually developed and expanded over the years, influenced the direction Sudbury took after World War II. It is possible to stand in front of the Wayside Inn today and see this development. Very close to Sudbury's most famous historic site is the original seventeenth century dirt track, coming right up to the door. Set back about twenty yards is the eighteenth century Post Road. In the distance is the present Route 20, a bypass ironically funded by Henry Ford when he purchased the inn and surrounding land in 1923. Now this landscaped denial of his own creation is one of the primary links between the belts of scientific and technological industries clustered along routes 128 and 495. While the coming of the railroad and the automobile had their impact, things were much as they always had been for three centuries when, on the eve of World War II, Sudbury celebrated its tercentenary. It was still an agricultural community, and its population was almost exactly what it had been at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Much the same was true for Lincoln as well. For most of its history Lincoln remained intact, undisturbed by highway development. If the Wayside Inn is Sudbury's most important historic site, the Codman House is Lincoln's. This pre-revolutionary house, converted into the summer estate of a wealthy Boston family just after the revolution, is the oldest house of its type in the town. While several wealthy persons built summer homes in Sudbury, many more people built such homes in Lincoln. Thus Lincoln acquired a greater concentration of wealth. It did not develop rapidly after World War II, as residents were not tempted to sell their land. In fact, both public and private funds were used to buy up large tracts in order to preserve the rural landscape. Meanwhile the slow development of Sudbury's Route 20 during the first four decades of this century opened that town up for much more rapid growth after 1945.
In 1946 the population of Lincoln was 1, 988 and that of Sudbury was nearly the same, 2,051. A decade later Lincoln had grown by 48% to 2,949, while Sudbury had increased 107% to 4,251. In no previous decade had either town grown so fast. Growth continued to come more rapidly to Sudbury than to Lincoln as the two towns became more suburban. Lincoln reached a population of 5,548 in 2002, with Sudbury at 17,245 in the same year. Thus in fifty years Sudbury's population had grown to be thrice the size of Lincoln's. The great and rapid growth of the two towns and the resulting strains of change have been in large measure due to the location and construction of Routes 128 and 495, and especially of the technological industries which have grown up along them. This growth has brought enriching diversity to both communities, but it has also meant that the local population is now more transient than in the past and the blue collars are now bleached white.

Lincoln had never had a high school of its own, tuitioning its students out into several neighboring districts instead. By the early 1950's Sudbury's old high school building was clearly inadequate for its rapidly expanding school population. The Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School District was created in 1954, and two years later the school opened its doors to 247 students from the two towns. It was the hope of the school's planners to bring to the communities of Lincoln and Sudbury a strong academically oriented curriculum characteristic of a good competitive independent school. Such was the kind of school desired at the time by the residents of Lincoln and Sudbury. The school was highly structured; students were allowed very few choices in curriculum and were assigned to study halls during non-class time. The people of Sudbury and Lincoln and the school administration were content to measure the school's success in terms of the percentage of graduates who went on to college. The written philosophy described Lincoln-Sudbury as "guidance-centered." Even in this first phase of the school's life, and notwithstanding the emphasis on structure, the individual student's needs were a continual focus of the school program.

A decade later the second phase of the school's history moved Lincoln-Sudbury toward an opposite philosophical goal, largely because the thinking and views of the communities and the educational staff shifted away from structure and toward flexibility. In 1968, when enrollment had risen to about 1,400 and two additions had been built, the stated philosophy was "to establish an educational atmosphere conducive to the fullest possible development of each member of the school community, adolescent and adult, as a complex and unique personality." The school's daily schedule changed from a six block day to a modular schedule of twenty 20-minute periods. The number of electives was substantially increased, and students were allowed significant periods of unassigned time. The house system was introduced, effecting administrative decentralization, and thus trying to provide the individual student with a smaller, more personal school unit with which to identify. It was characteristic of this era in the school's history that programs were introduced allowing students to spend significant amounts of time in out-of-class experiences.

In 1974, the population of Lincoln-Sudbury peaked at 1,964 students, and a third addition had been completed. In the next few years, as a result of strong expressions of community concern, the school concluded that clarification of the substance of its programs was needed. Coupled with both declining enrollment and changes in state law, community pressure caused the school to review and clarify its own standards and expectations, and, subsequently, to hold students and staff more clearly responsible. The curriculum was also reexamined and changed to meet the needs of a smaller number of students, many more of whom were going to college. In spite of declining numbers, a range of elective choices was preserved, but with more class time in a seven block day. For those students with particular needs best met in a smaller setting, an off-site alternative school was established. To support all these changes and in an effort to improve both the quality and consistency of administration, the organization of the school was centralized, with the heads of houses evaluating teachers and overseeing the departments.

As the size of the school decreased to a minimum of 887 in 1994-1995, the faculty became more stable, though various programs prevented it from becoming uniformly gray. Also both faculty and administration became more successful at articulating to the communities what was going on at Lincoln-Sudbury. As a result, community support increased, and it was possible to reduce the teaching load of the majority of the faculty to four classes, with few teaching more than a hundred students. Parents also came to play a wider role in the school, sitting on committees to assess various departments and taking on a significant role in the LS-21 initiative, which provoked many innovations, including the direct method in foreign language, an arts requirement, the conversion of physical education into wellness, a new "block" schedule, and the reintroduction of a service requirement. At the same time computers were becoming part of the school's everyday life, and with the advent of e-mail, a web site, and telephones for every adult in the building, communication improved.

Meanwhile, as state politicians perceived yet another crisis in education, and passed a reform bill whose execution threatened schools of excellence and character, Lincoln-Sudbury reasserted its sense of self in the observation of its first forty years and by honoring those who had served it with distinction and in a continued commitment to its core values of "fostering cooperative and caring relationships, respect for human differences, and the development and maintenance of a purposeful and vigorous academic program." Both the faculty and School Committee adopted resolutions opposing the frameworks and the use of single examinations as graduation requirements. Like them, most members of the communities supported efforts to retain the school's curriculum and to protect students from the misuse of state exams. The state Board of Education, however, despite increasing criticism, continued inexorably toward further regulation, insisting that those members of the Class of 2003 not passing the MCAS exams be denied diplomas.

With rising enrollments and the even more rapid expansion of special services, demand for space within an aging building was increasing, so in 1998 a building committee was established. During its first year this committee conducted a feasibility study, and concluded that the better course was to build a completely new structure rather than to rehabilitate the old building and add on to it. The Office of Michael Rosenfeld was selected as architect, and the two communities voted to spend $ 74,000,000 to construct a new school and to rebuild the playing fields. The architects held many meetings with faculty and staff, and construction drawings were completed by the end of 2001. These plans were approved by the state, which agreed to fund 62% of the cost. Construction began in June, 2002, and the new school is due to be completed in 2004, Lincoln-Sudbury's fiftieth anniversary year.

At that point the old building will be demolished, the old giving way to the new. Such was also happening in another and more essential way. When Lincoln-Sudbury went through its first period of rapid growth, around 1970, many young teachers were hired, the second generation of faculty. A significant number of this second generation spent careers of thirty years or more at Lincoln-Sudbury, providing a long period of continuity. Through their individual characters and intellects they molded the curriculum and character of the school, refining what they had inherited from the founding generation. Beginning in about the year 2000 significant numbers of the second generation began to retire, and so it happened that at the moment Lincoln-Sudbury was acquiring a new body, the nurturing of its spirit was being passed to the third generation of faculty.