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History

We occupy what may be the oldest continuously operating school site west of the Mississippi River. Prior to the construction of Mission Dolores in 1775, the land was an Ohlone village called Chutchui. During the early Mission period before an orchard was planted, the Ohlone and the clergy of the Mission kept a flock of sheep on the site, a tradition carried on by CDS today. 

In 1856, Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany gave part of the orchard land surrounding Mission Dolores to three young nuns from the Order of Notre Dame de Namur to start an elementary and secondary school for girls. Following the gift of the land to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a series of school buildings were constructed on the site, one of which was dynamited on April 19, 1906 after the earthquake as a fire break for Mission Dolores. This was replaced a few years later by what is now the Notre Dame Plaza senior housing facility owned by Mercy Housing.

St. Joseph’s Hall, the school building housing Children’s Day School, was built in 1925. Notre Dame High School remained in operation until June 1981. Notre Dame Elementary School for Girls continued in operation until 1986.

In 1983, Jim Robinson founded Children’s Day School for children ages two to five years old, located in the Excelsior District of San Francisco. In 1987, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur leased St. Joseph’s Hall to CDS.

In 1996, Jim Robinson gave the assets of CDS to a non-profit corporation started by a group of CDS parents. Sandra Luna, former Acting Head, became Head of School (of the now non-profit, independent school) and initiated the vision of a preschool through eighth grade school grounded in principles of social justice.

In 2001, CDS purchased St. Joseph’s Hall and the glorious 1.2 acres where CDS is located.

In July 2002, Rick Ackerly joined CDS as Head of School.

In September 2003, CDS opened a middle school.

In June 2006, CDS graduated its first class of eighth grade students.

In January 2008, CDS purchased a 3-floor Edwardian building adjacent to its shared parking lot, providing the school with an additional 6,000 square feet for programmatic expansion and improvement.

In July 2010, Molly Huffman joined CDS as Head of School.

In 2010, St. Joseph’s Hall was renovated.

In August 2011, CDS purchased a 18,000 sq ft building at 601 Dolores Street. This new space will house our Middle School and will allow us to continue our growth to two sections per grade.