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Our History

Montessori in the United States

During the late 1950s, an educational theory study group affiliated with John Carroll University and Ursuline College began discussing the writings of Nancy Rambusch, an American educator who studied the Montessori Method in London. Mary Ruffing, a member of the group, invited Nancy to come to Cleveland to give a talk about her school, Whitby Montessori (the first Montessori school in the United States), and about Maria Montessori. Mary and her husband, Jim, visited Whitby, and their enthusiasm inspired the study group to found the Cleveland Montessori Association (CMA) in 1959. They began the process of finding sites and hiring qualified teachers to open Montessori classrooms in Cleveland.

Ruffing’s Beginnings

In July 1961, the CMA opened a summer orientation program and several Montessori Children’s House programs in existing school buildings throughout Cleveland, first on the west side, then on the east side, making Ruffing the second Montessori school established in the United States. In 1964, Cynthia and David Ingalls became interested in helping to establish a stable location for CMA, purchasing property on Fairmount Boulevard and leasing it, with a cottage located on it, to CMA for $1 a year. Jim and Mary Ruffing had become deeply involved as leaders in the American Montessori movement: Mary as the school’s first Principal, and Jim, as a leader in Montessori teacher training. When they moved from Cleveland in 1969, the Board changed the school name from Cleveland Montessori School to Ruffing Montessori School in their honor.

Through the continued philanthropy of the Ingalls family, a second preschool classroom was constructed on the Fairmount Boulevard property in 1970. In 1971, the Ingalls donated the land and existing buildings, as well as funds to construct an additional building to house elementary classes. In recognition of this generous support, the Cleveland Heights location was named the Ingalls Campus.

Creation of the Fairmount Montessori Association

As the scale of the citywide school grew, it was becoming increasingly difficult to administer split locations. In 1977, the east side and west side locations became legally separate, and a new entity was formed, the Fairmount Montessori Association (FMA), to operate the east side Ingalls Campus.

David Kahn, who had been hired as an elementary teacher in 1973, became the first Principal of Ruffing under the FMA in 1977. During his tenure, Ruffing achieved a number of milestones: becoming state certified, adding a third preschool classroom, expanding school services to families, and increasing enrollment. After developing a Middle School curriculum and securing backing from families and local foundations, the FMA Board purchased an acre of land from Beaumont School and began construction of a new Middle School and Upper Elementary classroom building, which opened in 1982. This additional space made it possible to launch a day camp that year called Summer Ruffing It.

In 1984-1985, David Kahn transitioned from Ruffing Principal to head of the Ohio Montessori Training Institute in Cleveland, which offered Montessori training for elementary and preschool teachers through Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).

Continued Growth and Expansion

In 1985, John Long, a Middle School teacher, became Head of School, and Jan Katz, already on staff as the administrator, was appointed co-Head for administration. In 1989, the Lower Elementary and Middle School buildings were connected by a new gymnasium/community center, which also included an art room, an after-school environment and expanded space for the Middle School.

In 1991, John Long resigned to return to teaching in the Middle School, and Marilyn Wright, an experienced teacher from the Middle School, served as Interim Academic Dean for the 1991-92 school year. Timothy Duax became Head of School from 1992 to 1994, with Ruffing teacher Robert Fleischhacker becoming Head of School in 1994, without a change in the joint headship structure. In 2001, Gordon Maas was named Head of School, combining both administrative and academic leadership into one position. Barry Wadsworth was named new Head of School effective Fall 2016 at which time the school was able to purchase the Shelburne Road house, expanding our land to three acres,  and hired our first Director of Student Care, Josh Chefitz.  Kathie Freer was named Head of School in 2018, Ruffing's 60th anniversary year, prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) training for faculty, staff, and board of trustees.

Ruffing sought and achieved accreditation through the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) in 2006, joined the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools (CCIS) and became a member of the Ohio Association of Independent Schools (OAIS). The Parent Association was formed to further build community among the parents, and both the President of the Parent Association and a faculty representative began attending Board of Trustees meetings in an ex officio capacity.

Green Redesign of Ruffing’s Campus

In 2004, the Board began discussions about the need to redevelop the aging campus and voted to do so by following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles. After careful planning, the groundbreaking was held in June 2005. Conducted in three phases, the redevelopment project was completed in 2007, and enabled the school to unify a multi-structure campus, open a Toddler Community, offer a Siesta Care program, physically expand or replace all classrooms and dedicated spaces for art, music, drama and world languages, and most importantly, create a healthy and safe learning and working environment.

Ruffing Heads of School

Mary Ruffing
Joan Ducas
John McNamara
David Kahn
John Long
Timothy Duax
Bob Fleischhacker
Gordon Maas
Barry Wadsworth
Kathie Freer