Mission & History
Sycamore School exists so that academically gifted children can experience the enriched, accelerated education they need to reach their potential and to lead responsible, constructive, fulfilling lives.
When a group of parents met in 1984, they sat around a kitchen table and talked about how they were not satisfied with the educational opportunities available in Indianapolis for children who were academically gifted. They decided that the best solution could be achieved through the creation of a private, independent institution, and thus, before the end of 1984, Sycamore School was chartered as a not-for-profit corporation in Indiana. Gene Eib, a highly regarded, recently retired public school principal, was hired as its founding Headmaster on Christmas Eve, 1984.
With Gene Eib’s leadership and credibility, plus boundless energy from the parents and teachers, feverish preparations were made during the 1984-85 school year. A building was leased from a Unitarian Church near Butler University and prepared for use by the new school. Teachers were hired, used furniture and a few instructional materials were gathered, and the school opened in the fall of 1985 with 110 students in kindergarten through grade five.
Enrollment expanded rapidly, and the young institution quickly outgrew the church’s available space. Portable facilities were rented, but it became obvious that a new location was needed. Board members pursued a lease on a vacant public school building. While these negotiations were going on, the Butler Preschool for Gifted and Talented Children, operating under the auspices of Butler University, was in the process of closing. Sycamore School completed its agreement with Washington Township to lease Grandview Elementary School just in time for a number of teachers and families from the Butler Preschool to join Sycamore in its new, much larger building.
Thus, in fall 1989, the school moved to the site it occupies today, serving students from three years of age through grade eight. It was then a 14-acre campus with a 56,000-square-foot building. The campus is now 16 acres, and the building has 200,000 square feet under roof. This one building houses all of the academic facilities: classrooms, science and computer labs, music and art studios, gymnasium, auditorium, and library. The grounds also contain athletic fields and play areas for younger children.
The school grew rapidly in enrollment, quality, and community recognition. In 1991, Sycamore became a provisional member of ISACS, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. That school year also saw significant improvements in the library, which continues to be a priority, and the creation of an appropriately accelerated and differentiated math curriculum. The athletic program began substantial improvements the following year.
After Mr. Eib’s retirement in 1987, Alice Bostwick became Head of School. Mrs. Bostwick had been one of the school’s founding teachers. She was dedicated to the school and had boundless energy to devote to its success. When Mrs. Bostwick was appointed, the school had already outgrown its original building, and classes were being held in a collection of construction office trailers on the original campus. When Sycamore School moved to the present location, Alice played a major role in assisting with the actual move, in addition to planning for the use of the larger space. While Mrs. Bostwick was Head of School, enrollment grew to 385, nearly filling the building.
Bostwick was succeeded by Dr. Nyle Kardatzke, who became Head of School in January of 1994. That school year, the student body reached 400 in preschool through eighth grade, with over 50 faculty and administrators. Dr. Kardatzke’s previous experience in independent schools led to restructuring the administration to allow for Division Heads, a Plant Manager, and a full-time Admissions Director. Long-range planning in the spring of 1994 and subsequent work by the Board of Trustees set in motion activities to strengthen and improve the school. Much of the school’s history from 1994 to 2000 is a reflection of that long range plan, which led to the following developments:
- Clarification of the school’s mission
- Establishment of a regular cycle of curriculum writing and refinement
- Introduction of non-salary benefits for all staff members in 1995
- Purchase of the campus in 1996
- Full accreditation by ISACS in 1998
- Successful completion of the school’s first capital campaign, 1998-2000
- Expansion of the building, 1999-2000 to add an Early Childhood wing and expand spaces for art, music, computers, science, and Spanish; renovation of the Middle School wing of the building
SYCAMORE SCHOOL: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
This is probably the most challenging question in education today. We are educating kids for an unknown future. That’s why teaching them to think, both critically and creatively, and teaching them to love learning are the best gifts we can give them. There are a few things we know about the future:
- Great teachers will not be replaced by technology. We believe the future of education belongs to the best teachers who know how to best employ technology to enhance instruction. The human element will always be important.
- There will always be students who need schools like Sycamore. We have to be able to stimulate, educate, and motivate our best and brightest. They will be the leaders that will solve the problems of today and tomorrow.
- Sycamore will still be here! It may look different, inside and out. It may be filled with children of our current students. Sycamore is here to stay, and it’s too good not to be better!
- Sycamore is a prime example of institutional evolution and an inspirational story of response to a need. Our work will never be complete. We will change and we will grow—that’s imperative. The best is yet to come!
A new long-range plan was written in 2000 with the participation of 70 parents, teachers, alumni, and students. This new plan called for further improvements in the facilities, upgraded faculty compensation, expanded financial aid, and steps to assure continuity of the school as staff and Board members change over time.
A second capital campaign in 2004-2005 provided a new gymnasium and a new theater, a relocated and modernized library, plus renovation of the Lower School wing and creation of a new entrance. The old building could scarcely be found amidst the beautiful new surroundings, and the ways students now learn at Sycamore School would not be recognized by those who occupied this building in the mid-20th Century.
Sycamore School’s 20th Anniversary in fall 2005 may have marked “the end of the beginning,” with newly expanded facilities, an outstanding record of student and alumni achievement, and a clear mission for the future. Members of the Sycamore community were ready to write the next chapters of the school’s history in the years ahead.
Dr. Kardatzke completed a highly successful tenure as head in June 2006. His legacy at Sycamore includes a commitment to continuous improvement, pastoral concern for all members of the school community, the embodiment of impeccable ethical standards, and a good-humored and gentle role model for students and adults alike.
The Board of Trustees of Sycamore School selected Leo P. Dressel to be the fourth Head of Sycamore School, effective July 2006. During his tenure at Sycamore, Mr. Dressel conducted a successful search for a new Head of Middle School. He helped the school develop and implement its first Crisis Response Plan. Active in the Indianapolis Area Private Schools Diversity Consortium, Mr. Dressel promoted diversity at all levels within the Sycamore community. During his second year at Sycamore, enrollment was at a record high of 432 students. He spent his last year at Sycamore guiding the school through the strategic planning process.
During the 2008-09 school year, Dr. Susan Karpicke and Mrs. Glenna Lykens were named as Interim Co-Heads of School as Sycamore embarked on a search for a new permanent Head of School. Dr. Karpicke, who at the time served as Director of Admissions, and Mrs. Lykens, who was Head of Lower School at the time, continued in those roles as they worked with the administrative team to provide leadership until the new Head of School was in place.
In December 2008, Diane Borgmann was named the fifth Head of School at Sycamore, effective July 1, 2009. Mrs. Borgmann returned to the Sycamore community she had been an integral part of for eleven years. She was the first Head of Lower School at Sycamore, serving in that role from 1994-2005, adding the additional responsibilities of Associate Head of School in 2001. She and her husband, Bob, have three sons who are Sycamore graduates. Her intimate knowledge of, and commitment to, gifted education made her a natural selection to lead Sycamore. Her knowledge and contacts in the gifted community were valuable assets in Sycamore’s work.
In 2015-16, Borgmann and the board oversaw the launch of an ambitious $5.7 million capital campaign. The support from Sycamore friends and family was tremendous, and the school exceeded their goal by the end of the 2016-17 school year. The money raised was used for the construction of new spaces within the school, renovation of needed existing areas of the building, and growth of a financial aid endowment to benefit students who cannot afford to come to Sycamore, and continuation of the Sycamore Fund.
Longtime Sycamore Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Wiliams became the school's Head of Early Childhood during the 2016-2017 school year, succeeding Francine Clayton, who had been in that role for a number of years.
In 2017, Patrick Cauley was hired as the Director of Technology, replacing longtime Director Larry Fletcher. The following year, the brick and wrought iron fence with the Sycamore School sign were completed as the final piece of the Fulfilling Promise Campaign.
In early 2019, Sycamore received word that its fourth ISACS accreditation had been successful and that they were also awarded “Top Workplace in Indianapolis” for the second time. The Early Childhood Outdoor Play Lab is completed in late 2019
in 2020, Duane Emery was hired as the Director of Enrollment Management to succeed Dr. Susan Karpicke. Karpicke and an original teacher, Eileen Prince, retired together with a combined total of 67 year experience.
With COVID-19 ending in-person learning in March 2020, the Sycamore staff developed and implemented the first Distance Learning Plan due to the global pandemic. During the summer of 2020, the Re-Opening Sycamore Task Force developed extensive health and safety protocols and facility modifications that enabled the safe return to in-person learning in the fall of 2020.
Sycamore celebrated the retirement of Glenna Lykens, longtime Head of Lower School, in 2021, and Tiffany Stahl was hired as the Head of Lower School. Katie Baker was also hired as the Head of Middle School.
In early 2022, Diane Borgmann announced that she would be retiring on June 30, 2023 after 14 years as Head of School. The school completed a national search for the next Head of School, and in June 2022 the Board of Trustees announced that John Huber would become Head of School on July 1, 2023.
During the 2022-2023 school year, Sycamore began the Sycamore Inspires Campaign to fundraise for reimagining the Media Center area and starting the Borgmann Inspiration Fund. In April 2023, Jim Wood succeeded Holly Lee as Director of Advancement.
John Huber became the new Head of School at Sycamore on July 1, 2023.
Since Diane Borgmann’s appointment as head of school in 2009, much progress has been made on many fronts. The 2009-2014 Strategic Plan was completed, and a Strategic Plan for 2015-2018 has been created and implemented. Some of the most significant accomplishments from 2009-2023 have been:
- Sycamore’s increased visibility and presence in the broader Indianapolis community
- Addition of Learning Resource Specialist and Psychologist staff positions
- Character Education Focus
- Development of faculty evaluation model
- Development of faculty compensation model
- Creation of Campus Master Plan
- Creation of Strategic Financial Plan
- Creation and hosting of a national conference for education from independent schools with missions to serve gifted students
- Increased focus on socio-economic diversity and increased ability to offer need-based financial assistance
- Creation of school-wide Sycamore Olympics
- Sycamore’s strong position as a local and national leader in gifted education and pedagogy
- Implementation of a wellness program for faculty and staff
- Top Workplace in Central Indiana award in 2014, 2019, and 2023
- Achievement of a predictable $400,000 annual Sycamore Fund
- Stronger connection and involvement from alumni
- The launch of the “Fulfilling Promise” campaign in 2015 to enhance the facility, secure the Sycamore Fund, and provide a financial aid endowment
- Construction of the Hagerman Family Middle School Commons, the Scott A. Jones Family Board Room, the Guenthner Family Entrance, the Bhatia Family Technology Lab, the Innovation Lab, the Quest Room, new faculty/staff lounge, new reception area, new office areas, and decorative fencing along Grandview Avenue and 64th Street.
- Launching the Sycamore Inspires Campaign to raise fund for a renovated Media Center and Borgmann Inspiration Fund.
Sycamore is strong and getting stronger as it continues to advance its reputation as the nationally recognized leader in the education of gifted children. As Mrs. Borgmann likes to say, “This is too good not to be better.”
Sycamore School was founded in 1985 by parents and teachers who felt that the unique needs of their high-achieving children were not being met by existing public and private schools. Discussions within this small group led to the suggestion that they start a school dedicated solely to the education of academically gifted students.
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