Los creadores de La Escuela de Lancaster
Ray and Janet Baker, founder members of the Lancaster School
Negotiations with the board had broken down. They wouldn’t talk to us, so we felt we had no choice. We had to open our own school. It was already June, so there was no time to lose if we were to be ready to start in September. Many people thought we were crazy.
We were a group of parents who wanted not just a bilingual school, but a bicultural school, combining a British education with the Mexican system, and there were frequent meetings at each other houses which went on late into the night. The most urgent matter was premises and Mrs. Zolla daughter of ex-President López Mateos, said that she had a house in Plaza de la Constitución, Tlalpan, which we could use free of charge. When we went to see this house we found a large Porfirian residence surrounded by 4,000 meters of treed gardens, and we later discovered it came complete with a ghost. The drawback was that the house had not been occupied for 35 years and badly needed painting and repair work. We all descended on the property with buckets and brooms to put it in order. Susan Derbez, one of the parents arrived with her box of tools that was the envy of every man present (and what is more she knew how to use them).
Gallito, the caretaker, who was about five feet tall, assured us that he was quite capable of guarding the school, and to prove his point, he produced a huge revolver which appeared to be a relic from the revolution.
It never occurred to us that we should obtain a permit to open the school. The “delegación” across the road, like many others, thought we were crazy but every family put ten thousand pesos in the “kitty”, we ordered furniture and books and, although the desks had not arrived, we opened in the September with about 40 students. Doors, removed from the closets in our houses, placed on chairs backs served as desks. The staff was Jenny Ruiz as Headmistress and form teacher for grades 4 & 5, Donna Alvarado for grades 2 and 3, Barbara Sánchez for grades Preprimary and 1, Susan Sánchez for Kinder I and Kinder II. Paty Morales taught Spanish, and Jean Dávila and Janet Baker worked unpaid in the office which was a converted bathroom.
We approached the British Ambassador who kindly agreed to be the Patron of the school, which was run by a committee of parents, not for idealistic reasons, but because we could see no alternative. The first President was Ray Baker and members of the Board were Roberto Derbez, Paty Morales, Alberto Leyva and José Manuel Dávila. Everybody had ideas about how to run a school and very often Board Meetings lasted until the early hours of the morning. Somebody thought a cockerel would be educational. Feeding it was a job for the office staff, a very scary job. Money was in short supply and when Jenny Ruiz demanded a carpet for her classroom there was some consternation, but she got it, and it turned out to be a very wise decision.
The first years were great fun but very hard; we succeeded because all the parents and teachers worked together as a team. Those who followed us were the ones who really put the school on its feet and the success of their efforts makes us feel our early work was worthwhile, especially as our grandchildren are now entering the school. Everyone who has been involved can stand proud for what we have all accomplished in the twenty five years of the Lancaster School.
Jenny Ruiz, founder member of the Lancaster School and Head of Primary from 1979 to 1993
Start a school? That’s right, run on parent power so that no owners, remote committee members or people in the shadows could ever dictate to us how our school should be run. I must have been very idealistic in those days, but literally it never crossed my mind that the Lancaster School project could fail. Why? Morally, I felt right was on our side, we had a building on loan from Mrs Zolla, 44 pupils, good teachers and a marvellous group of parents. We were determined to make the school function well and of course due to others who came later it continues to be very successful. The early days of the school were lot of fun, but not for those balancing the books, we were always teetering on the brink of NO money in the bank. I would like to thank all those involved in the Lancaster School project; we have created an important difference in the educational options in Mexico and have proved that parent power works.