The Athenian School

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The Athenian School
2100 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.
Danville, California
United States
Type Private, College-prep, Independent, Day & Boarding
Motto Life is an adventure of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.
Established 1965
Head of school Eric Niles
Grades 6-12
Mascot Owls
Colors Terra-Cotta (Earth), Black
Campus size 75 Acres
% of faculty with advanced degrees 76%

The Athenian School is a college preparatory and boarding school located in Danville, California, United States. Athenian educates students in grades 6–12 on a 75-acre (300,000 m2) campus at the base of Mt. Diablo, located near San Francisco in Northern California. Athenian was founded by Dyke Brown (1915–2006) in 1965.

Athenian is composed of roughly 150 students in the middle school (grades 6-8) and 300 students in the high school (9-12). Approximately 60 students and 18 teachers live on campus full-time. The average class size is 16.[citation needed]

Aerial view of Athenian School

According to Niche, The Athenian School is ranked 127th on the 2018 list of Best Private High Schools in America. Athenian is also ranked as the 36th best boarding school in the United States.[1]

Athenian holds an average SAT score of 1983 (out of 2400)[2] and an average ACT score of 31.[3] According to Boarding School Review, this gives Athenian the 8th highest SAT score of any boarding school in the United States.[4]


Dyke Brown conceived of the idea of a mission-driven boarding school during his tenure as Vice President of the Ford Foundation, influenced by his Foundation work in youth development and the prevention of juvenile delinquency, and by his own children's educational experiences.[5]

Athenian is a founding member of Round Square, an international organization of schools whose philosophy is influenced[6] by the German educator Kurt Hahn.[7]

In 1962, Brown left the Ford Foundation to begin to raise money for the school he had in mind. Inspired by the Oxford system of individual colleges sharing common resources, his original plan was a series of four campuses sharing a library, science classrooms, athletic facilities, a performing-arts complex, and other facilities. He found 80+ acres of land in what was then rural Contra Costa county, a portion of what was then the Blackhawk Ranch, bordering on Mount Diablo State Park.

Construction began in 1963, and the founding head, W. Robert Usellis, began recruiting the pioneer classes in the fall of 1964. Brown's vision was startling at the time: he planned for both integration and coeducation. In the early 1960s, very few private schools were recruiting students of color. The value of integration for private schools was seen by a very few visionaries, including the founders of A Better Chance.[8] The norm for boarding schools at the time was single-sex; a coeducational boarding program was unusual. In September 1965, the school opened with approximately sixty students, in ninth and tenth grades. In 1968, the founding class graduated, with a full enrollment of about 120 students, of whom only about six were day students.[citation needed]

In the 1970s, Athenian weathered local, national, and international changes. The surrounding area was transformed from cattle ranches to upscale developments. Athenian's neighbor, Blackhawk Ranch, was sold to land developer Ken Behring, and by 1979 2,500 upscale homes were built. The population boom in the area meant that there was an increased demand for day student places at the school.

Nationally, at least two forces were at work. First, the stagflation of the 1970s meant that parents had less discretionary income, thus weakening the pool of prospective boarding students. Other demographic changes, such as the increase in divorce, affected the pool of prospective boarding students.

In 1979, there was sufficient interest in the surrounding community for Athenian to open a day-school-only middle school, serving students in grades 6-8. Most of them continued on to finish high school at Athenian.


Aerial view of Athenian School pool area

Athenian is one of ten schools in the Bay Counties League - East. The school colors are terra cotta and earth; the sports teams wear orange and black.

Athenian's golf team has won the league title for four consecutive years, and in seven of the last eight. The women's basketball team became league champions on February 8, 2008.

The full list of sports offered includes wrestling, soccer, volleyball, flag football, ultimate frisbee, tennis, dance, golf, swimming, track & field, cross country, sailing, basketball, baseball, badminton, and a variety of other non-team athletics, including hiking, fencing, yoga, outdoor adventure, and weight training.


Student activity clubs include Asian Club, Outdoor Adventure Club, Interweave (Gay-Straight Alliance), Jew Crew, Black Student Union, Christian Club, Interfaith Dialogue Club, Philanthropy Club, Hip Hop Club, Tea Club, Entrepreneurship, Round Square Club, and more.[9]

Heads of School[edit]

  • 1966-1968: W. Robert Usellis
  • 1969-1970: John Streetz
  • 1970-1977: David Murray
  • 1977-1987: Steven Davenport
  • 1987-1992: Sam Eliot
  • 1992-2009: Eleanor Dase
  • 2009-present: Eric Niles[10]


  1. ^ The Athenian School Niche Rankings
  2. ^ The Athenian School: At a Glance
  3. ^ The Athenian School Niche Academics
  4. ^ Boarding School Review- Highest Average SAT Scores
  5. ^ The history section is adapted from Athenian: An Oral History.
  6. ^ [site= site=] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved July 25, 2018.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link] The beginnings of the Round Square Conference
  7. ^
  8. ^ [site= site=] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved July 25, 2018.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link] Mission and History of A Better Chance
  9. ^ Equity and Inclusion: Student Activities Archived 2010-01-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ The Athenian School Names New Head[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°50′07″N 121°56′59″W / 37.8354°N 121.9498°W / 37.8354; -121.9498