7380 Girard Avenue, La Jolla

Gillispie School / Our School / History of Gillispie

History of Gillispie

Ada Gillispie was devoted to children in need.

Gillispie School began in 1933 as a small cottage that served hot meals to the underprivileged children of single mothers or working parents in La Jolla in the lean years of the Great Depression. Its founders, pediatrician Samuel Gillispie and his wife, registered nurse Ada, had the prescience to offer the children in their care early childhood learning and opportunities long before nursery school was the norm.

With support from the La Jolla Kiwanis Club and the community at large, Gillispie grew into a vibrant, diverse educational community serving children ages 2 to sixth grade. Through its evolution, Gillispie has remained at the leading edge of early childhood education, breaking ground on its current site in 1953, building out additional grades in the 1980s, adding rigorous curriculum development and assessment in the 1990s, winning awards for technological innovation from Apple and the National Association of Independent Schools in the 2000s, and launching a sustainability initiative to green the School’s building and ground the students’ environmental education. Throughout, the School has maintained its commitment to the arts, music, and physical education.

In the last few years, the School has invested considerably in faculty education and advancement through the establishment of The Gillispie School Endowment for Excellence in Teaching. New initiatives include the construction of the Field of Dreams, an exceptional playing field, and a school-wide commitment to community service that sees the School partnering with local non-profit organizations.

In the summer of 2021, Gillispie opened its Sandbox, a 7000-square-foot building adjacent to our current campus. Designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation, this bright and colorful space houses our very first theater and multi-purpose space, a music room, library and media center, science classroom, indoor/outdoor makerspace, teaching kitchen, and an outdoor shaded student lunch area. We are confident that the Sandbox will transform the quality of the student experience, supporting each child’s unique journey and growth by empowering students to dream big, think creatively, work collaboratively, and pursue their passions.

Gillispie School was founded to support the children of La Jolla, both within its walls and without, with a vision of community engagement and ethical education. Some eighty years after the founding of Gillispie’s little cottage, the School continues to deliver on that promise.

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