Named for Dr. Laura Cushman, its founder and principal for nearly fifty-three years, The Cushman School is Miami-Dade County's oldest continuously operating private school. The first class, with just 12 students, took place on the front porch of Dr. Cushman's home. Today, the school consists of several buildings, a charming mix of old and new structures, spread across a small but expanding campus in a historic section of northeast Miami. The school is also recognized as one of the county's most accomplished educational institutions. Like its founder, The Cushman School is known for its idealism, innovation and vision.
A native of Iowa, Dr. Laura Cushman moved to the nascent city of Miami in the early 1900s. A decorated teacher in the county school system, she opened The Cushman School in 1924. Two years later, the school moved into a beautiful Mediterranean-styled building on the present campus. Dr. Cushman was behind every step of the school's development, from its founding until her death in 1986.
Dr. Cushman benefited from the wisdom of world-renowned education leaders like John Dewey and Maria Montessori. Like her contemporaries, she deeply believed that every child was special and that every student was capable of helping to chart his or her educational path. Further, she held that each child possessed the ability, when provided with encouragement and direction, to achieve and succeed in school and in life. To this day Cushman's educational methodology includes independent study, team teaching, standardized testing, and even contract work. As early as the 1930s, the school introduced remedial classes, for all pupils struggling with basic subjects, and enrichment classes to those who excelled.
Consistent with her egalitarian beliefs, Dr. Cushman admitted Jewish students when other private schools turned them away. In addition, she extended scholarships to needy students out of her own pocket. Judging by the roster of illustrious Cushman alumni, her approach worked. Former students include those in high-profile professions, businesses leaders, politicians, lawyers, artists and others who live well-rounded successful lives.
Dr. Cushman also believed that students should engage in the world around them. Field trips encouraged students to investigate the flora and fauna that surround them, life big and small, and eventually, beyond. Today Cushman students travel west, live overseas or aboard a ship and host foreign students. During World War II, the School was in the forefront of those civilian institutions providing assistance, in a myriad of ways, to the Allied forces.
With her 100th birthday looming, Dr. Cushman began looking for a successor. Dr. Joan Lutton, a former journalist turned elementary school teacher, became principal in the early 1980s. An affable intellectual, Lutton is just as ready with a smile as she is with a solution to a vexing problem. With great passion and enthusiasm, she has continued The Cushman School's innovative pursuit of excellence, while bringing the school to a much healthier financial position.
Dr. Lutton presides over an institution with an astonishingly diverse student body, representing forty different countries. The school operates on an annual budget in excess of $8 million, and provides a livelihood for more than 200 employees. Enrollment is capped at 500, with a long list of prospective pupils awaiting admission. The school recently completed a $7 million capital development program that has transformed the campus radically with two new multiuse buildings, providing classrooms.
More than eighty years ago, Laura Cushman explained that "A school seeks to develop the child mentally, physically and in character growth. To do this, the child must be placed in happy surroundings, be properly adjusted to his work, and have wholesome participation in living experiences." As it has since then, The Cushman School represents a wonderful fulfillment of these objectives.