Community School, Tehran
The Community High School was founded as a boarding school in Tehran, Iran, for the children of Presbyterian missionaries from the United States who were stationed in Iran since the 1830s. In the late 1940s, the school moved from its location at Qavām os-Saltaneh Street to Kucheh Marizkhaneh (Hospital Drive) near Jaleh Street until the summer of 1979 when it was permanently shut down by the new Islamic government.
The new campus had been an old Presbyterian missionary hospital during WWII where the last Queen of Iran, Farah Pahlavi Diba, was born. After the war, it was returned to the missionaries to be used as the school campus and J. Richard Irvine was hired as its headmaster in 1951. The large, tree-filled shady compound had several buildings, a small church, and walking paths.
The Presbyterian missionary school established itself in the early 1900s in Hamadan, Western Persia (as it was known by the West then), growing from a "home school" into a formal school. In the 1930s the school moved to Tehran due to logistical considerations, located on Qavām os-Saltaneh Street and had slightly more than 200 students. By the 1950s only a few of the students were children of missionaries as the number of Iranians and foreign students increased. It was commonly called the "American School", because students were taught primarily in English, with French and Persian as secondary languages. Classes met Monday through Thursday and on Saturdays, eventually switching to a permanent Saturday through Wednesday schedule (with Friday as the common holy day). With the exception of some of the Americans, most of the students spoke two or more languages.
The expatriate population of Persia in the early 1900s, in the reign of Ahmad Shah Qajar, was very small and consisted mainly of British interested in the execution of the business of their colonial empire. Some of the expatriate population included Swedish officers of the early Persian Gendarmerie, and Russian officers of Cossack brigades which largely made up the Iranian military. It was from just such a Cossack brigade that Reza Shah came to prominence. American presence in Persia was relatively small at that time, and consisted largely of missionaries. The Presbyterian missionaries had a delicate relationship with the Persian government, which found it easier to appease irritation in the Islamic establishment by restricting Christian religious activities at the school.
New campus: Jaleh Street 1935-1979
After the accession to power of Reza Shah, the influence and presence of Britain and Russia increased in Iran despite the pro-axis leanings of the Shah who refused the Allies use of the trans-Iranian railroad. He was deposed and exiled to South Africa in favor of his son in 1941, three months after the launch of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The American Army's Persian Gulf Command used Iran as a conduit for materiel to the Soviet Union, other routes being far more hazardous. By 1945, 150,000 assembled trucks, jeeps, aircraft, and even fire engines were transhipped from Khorramshar through Qazvin by truck and Tehran by train and then north to the Soviet Union1. In 1943, the Allies met for the Tehran Conference as a measure of its importance to the Allied war effort. During the war, the Presbyterian missionary hospital, later to become the Community School campus, was taken over for use as a military hospital. After the war, increasing United States involvement with Iran meant more Americans in Iran, and the Community School was the only school in town for their children's education.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, famous for his role in the Gulf War, was a student at Community School in 1950 and 1951 with his two sisters Sally and Ruth Ann. His father, formerly the Commandant of the New Jersey Highway Patrol, was brought in during the early years of the Truman Point-Four program to organize the Iranian Gendarmerie. Other luminaries include former Congressman Bob Barr ('66) and the current president (2011) and CEO of CocaCola Muhtar Kent ('71).
President Truman's Point-Four program put a heavy strain on Community School because it brought many more American students. It also brought Iran closer to the US politically, and marked the beginning of a period of economic growth; many Iranians were stimulated to seek a western education for their children.
In 1967 there was some tension in the school; the school population was about half Iranian and mostly non-Christian. Although the school atmosphere was open and tolerant, the Presbyterian missionary board thought the school was straying from its charter. By this time Mr. Irvine and board member Dr. Khodadad Farmanfarmaian had come to the view that Community should be developed into an International school, and should take on the role of secular college preparatory school. They formed a committee to explore the possibility. The missionary board thought Mr. Irvine and Dr. Farmanfarmaian were leading the school away from its missionary charter, and emotions flared up.
The need for international schools in Iran was certainly strong, and was a natural source of conflict and turmoil for the board. At that time, chapel was voluntary, bible class was required. The missionaries were unhappy: The school had largely become a school for upper-class Iranian children. The missionary board reacted negatively to the committee promoting an International school. Over the summer of 1967, the Iranzamin School was formed by Mr. Irvine and Dr. Farman-Farmanian, and Mr. Irvine left Community School to become its headmaster. This parting of ways caused many hurt feelings, and many of the people involved bore strong grudges lasting years. Ms. Sahakian, a school icon, went to Iranzamin School; Ms. Amin, another school icon, stayed at Community School.
After the departure of Mr. Irvine, the missionary board hired Douglas Hill as the next headmaster. Given the problems of running a religious school in Iran, including government objections and interference, Mr Hill moved the school in the direction of a secular international school. Enrollment steadily increased as the US military personnel arrived in Tehran and a few sent their children to Community School, as did businessmen and diplomats. Eventually Tehran American School (TAS) was established by the US Army for the many dependents in Tehran of U.S. military personnel. At its peak, the American population in Iran was 70,000 during the 1970s.
Someone once called the Community School "a laboratory of democracy at work." Besides the Americans, there were students from prominent Iranian families and children from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, whose families were living temporarily in Tehran. Their parents were diplomats, exiles, military, professionals, oil industry personnel, etc. CHS represented 28 nationalities and eight religions. Christians, Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians, and Sikh blended without a problem. Above the school entrance, in Persian calligraphy, were the words from the Book of John, 8:32, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Some students learned the United Nations pledge of allegiance to the individual countries and flags and sang the United Nations hymn, the "Song of Peace," set to music by the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
The school facilities on the new campus were a big improvement, but there was a downside. It was located at the end of a dead-end street in a dangerous part of the city where unrest and riots were particularly common during the late 1970s. The class of 1979 was the last and final class to hold a graduation ceremony on the main campus in June of that year, after which its doors were closed forever.
- Bob Barr - former United States House of Representatives, Georgia 1995-2003
- Yasmine Pahlavi - wife of Prince Reza Pahlavi
- Scott E. Parazynski - NASA astronaut
- Ari Ben-Menashe
- Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. - U.S. retired General, Gulf War 1990-1991
- Dennis W. Keogh - U.S. Diplomat, 1939-1984. Killed in terror attack in Oshakati, Namibia
- Tchenguiz brothers - investment bankers
- Terence Ward - author of "Searching for Hassan: An American Family's Journey Home to Iran"
- Henry Dallal - author/photographer:"Horse Warriors" and "Pageantry and Performance"
- Asif Ahmad - British Diplomat, Ambassador to the Philippines
- Darius Rejali - Reed College, Chair of Political Science Department
- Maryam Ekhtiar - author of "Modern Science, Education and Reform in Qajar Iran: The Dar Al-Funun" and "Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch"