International education pioneer M. Crist Fleming put her signature “Recipe for a School” to the test in 1956 when she founded TASIS The American School in Switzerland with the aim of providing students strong preparation for American universities while exposing them to cultures and training in languages other than their own. Mrs. Fleming had to overcome many factors not in her favor—she was American (i.e. not Swiss), young, a woman, alone in Switzerland, and living in the 1950s—to turn her dream of opening the first American boarding school in Switzerland into a reality. In 1976, she recalled this pivotal moment in her life thusly:
In 1776 our ancestors started a country; in 1956 I started a school. One event is 200 years ago—and one is 20 years ago. Now I’m almost old enough to have been present on both occasions but my memory is clearer regarding the second event. It was getting on past midnight and I was crossing the Alps.
The elephants were missing, but I had some of everything else–a blue Volkswagen bus, an MG TC, 70 suitcases full of books, linens, games and peanut butter, a German shepherd dog, a spare husband, and some of those things belonging to someone else that I am most noted for having–namely, children. I had two of my own with me, to be sure, but the others I seem to have acquired somewhere between Philadelphia and Paris…
Mrs. Fleming’s ability to recognize and seize opportunities was legendary, and she was only getting warmed up in 1956. She would go on to found many other schools and summer programs throughout Europe and beyond, and a few others have since been opened in the spirit of her legacy. Below we offer a snapshot of the impressive list of academic year schools that have been part of the TASIS portfolio through the years.
TASIS The American School in Switzerland
It all started at Villa Verbanella Alta in Locarno-Minusio, which served as the first TASIS campus from 1956 to 1958.
To accommodate her growing school, Mrs. Fleming moved the campus to Villa Soldati in Lugano-Loreto, where it would remain from 1958–1960.
Following another expansion in enrollments and again needing larger premises, TASIS moved up the hill (the Golden Hill, or Collina d’Oro) to Montagnola in 1960. With the school now looking like it would be a long-term success, Mrs. Fleming purchased her first property in Switzerland: the iconic Villa de Nobili. (She had only rented Villa Verbanella and Villa Soldati.)
The current TASIS campus has expanded considerably over the years, but Villa de Nobili—which houses 9th-grade boarding students, contains the offices of key administrators, and serves as the School’s primary indoor and outdoor dining space—remains its heartbeat.
Fleming College, which would later become Franklin University, set up its campus on the grounds of Villa Negroni in Vezia, where it operated from 1968–1970. The college inherited the campus after Mrs. Fleming closed TASIS’s hugely successful postgraduate program, which had also been housed in Villa Negroni, still considered one of the most beautiful properties in the Lugano area.
Fleming College Florence
After the closure of Fleming College in Lugano, it had a renaissance in Florence, Italy. Fleming College Florence offered a liberal arts program from 1972–1977.
In 1976 Mrs. Fleming famously ignored the statistics that predicted the folly of establishing an American school in England and opened a new school in Thorpe, Surrey. She was soon proven right, as TASIS England has been a huge success and is still flourishing today.
TASIS Hellenic was founded in 1979 following suggestions from acquaintances of Mrs. Fleming. Originally intended to be a smallish boarding school under the name TASIS Greece, Mrs. Fleming combined it with the existing Hellenic International School that was situated across the street—and TASIS Hellenic was born. The school was a big success and operated under the TASIS name until 2004, at which point it became the International School of Athens (ISA).
TASIS Cyprus operated from 1983–1986, providing a new location for the boarding student population of TASIS Hellenic, which was moved from Athens to Cyprus in response to political developments.
TASIS France at Château de Beauchamp was open for just one year, 1986–87, making the students and staff of that school an exclusive group. The students came mostly from TASIS Cyprus after it closed in 1986.
TASIS Dorado was founded in Puerto Rico in 2002 by Fernando Gonzalez, lifelong collaborator with TASIS and Mrs. Fleming, and is still run by the Gonzalez family.
Over the years, there have been numerous suggestions to follow Mrs. Fleming’s example and open further TASIS campuses around the world, including in Turkey, Ukraine, and China—not to mention the idea of a school on a cruise ship in the Eastern Mediterranean. None of these survived the stringent vetting process until the recent proposal to open a school in Portugal, which caught the right moment. TASIS Portugal opened in the fall of 2020 with 245 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through grade 7.
Remembering Mrs. Fleming
Founder’s Day 2020
TASIS celebrates Founder’s Day each September to commemorate Mrs. Fleming’s birthday and honor her incredible legacy. In 2020, in lieu of a traditional Founder's Day Assembly, Middle School Intern Vitor Mendes put together this impressive video, which we are delighted to share with the entire TASIS community.