Ryland O. Chapman III likes to give his students at Glenelg Country School a handshake on their birthday and a pin shaped like a red dragon, the school's mascot.
But keeping up with the tradition has become increasingly difficult for him. During Chapman's 15 years as Glenelg headmaster, enrollment has more than doubled to 765 students in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. New buildings have been popping up on campus. Chapman now uses a golf cart to navigate the grounds.
Glenelg Country School Headmaster Ryland O. Chapman III introduces guests during a dedication ceremony Friday.
(Grant L. Gursky For The Washington Post)
What began as a small country school on the edge of a dairy farm 50 years ago has developed into one of the state's largest independent schools. Glenelg celebrated its golden anniversary last week with several events, including a symposium on independent education in America led by Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R). The school also showcased its new athletic center and science and humanities wings at its Upper School.
"Parents want what we have," Chapman said.
Annual tuition at the school ranges from $8,400 for pre-kindergarten to more than $16,000 for high school.
Student-to-teacher ratios average 15:1, compared to ratios up to 23.5:1 in the county's public high schools. But maintaining that ratio is one of the biggest challenges facing the school, Chapman said.
The school was founded Sept. 23, 1954, with just 35 students in an historic mansion off Folly Quarter Road. Now, the campus sprawls across 90 acres. Chapman said he expects enrollment to hit 800 students within the next few years.
But accommodating those students also meant finding more space. For a while, the school could not bring all of its students together for assemblies because there was no place large enough to hold them all.
The school's recent construction was designed to address those issues. Students can now congregate in the Athletic Center, which features two basketball courts on its top floor and a fitness center and weight-training room on the bottom. Chapman said the new facility will also allow the school to start a middle school wrestling team and volleyball and badminton clubs for high school students next year.
The new science wing for the Upper School, grades 9 through 12, features five science labs. It also includes a library, two computer rooms and four additional classrooms. The new humanities wing has two tutoring rooms and four classrooms -- one of which Chapman uses to teach a history elective to juniors and seniors.
"The Upper School just hasn't had a physical plant to accommodate the student profile," said Cathleen Cadoux, president of the school's Parents and Friends Association.
The school is in the midst of a fundraising drive to pay the $15 million price tag on the new facilities. It has collected about $6 million, Chapman said.
The construction comes on the heels of several smaller projects, including an astronomy observatory in 2003, a primary school for students in pre-kindergarten through first grade in 2002, and a middle school and theater in 1997.
"They're very close to absorbing what they can absorb," Cadoux said. "It's not too much all at once."
Chapman said the latest facilities complete the vision laid out by school leaders a decade ago. Construction will taper off until the school can pay off its debt, but Chapman is looking toward the future.
As he drove around the rolling campus recently, he pointed out a shady spot where a new performing arts center might go one day.
But dreams aside, Chapman said he doesn't want to lose sight of what truly drives the school.
"A room doesn't make instruction," he said. "What makes the school is the teachers and the kids."