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Founders of the American education in Portugal

In September 1956, Anthony McKenna founded a small school with 9 students in an apartment in Pedrouços.  With a passion for education and a belief particularly in American educational methods and philosophy, he planted the seed which would, over the years and with a lot of dedication from a lot of people, grow into the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon with 700 students.

Anthony McKenna in 1974

Anthony McKenna, the Founder of St.Columban's

Mission and Philosophy and Academic Program - then and now

Anthony McKenna founded an American School in Portugal largely to serve the children of the American engineers who were contracted to help with the building of the Salazar (now 25 de Abril) Bridge. The school’s initial goal was to provide an American education which would allow the American students to enter schools and universities in the USA when they returned home. As the school's reputation for academic excellence grew, students from other nationalities enrolled and so, in 1984, it received an alvara [license] by which the Portuguese Ministry of Education recognized the school's educational program.

The original mission and academic program of the school were developed and focused on providing a “balanced” college-preparatory education of academics, arts, and athletics. As the enrollment grew and Portuguese students began to enroll, a strong program to develop Portuguese as a Native Language was adopted.

From this fundamental principal of a balanced education, our Mission grew and developed. Click the icon to know more about our present Mission and Values.

Mission and Values

CAISL at its core

From an apartment to an actual campus – CAISL growing up

St. Columban's started with 9 students and over the years grew slowly, knowing some ups and downs in numbers over the years. In 2019-2020, CAISL reached just slightly over 700 students, which marks the ideal capacity of our school and programs.

The original school was an apartment in Pedrouços with an Early Childhood Center in Linhó. From that small beginning, the school soon moved to an old Quinta in Carnaxide and, within a few years, had outgrown that facility and added the Elementary Campus in Monte Estoril and the Early Childhood Center in São João.

When the Fundação Escola Americana de Lisboa (FEAL) took over governance of the American International School in 1995, its first priority was to combine the Early Childhood, the Elementary, and the Secondary Divisions onto one campus in facilities designed to support the educational program. The Trustees of FEAL immediately began putting in place the financial support as well as the architectural and engineering plans to make this goal a reality. With the support of the Sintra Camara, which provided the land in Linhó on a long-term lease arrangement, the plan could be realized and in the fall of 1998, Grades 3 through 12 moved to the purpose-built campus in Linhó. For the 2000-2001 school year, the youngest students moved onto the Linhó campus, uniting everyone on one site for the first time in 20 years.

Governance and Management:

  • 1956 to 1976 – Mr. McKenna, school founder and sole manager.
  • 1976 to 1995 - Smith and EAP Lda. Become the owners and managers
  • 1995 until today - not-for-profit Fundação Escola Americana de Lisboa (FEAL), took over the governance of the school. Three entities (the American Embassy, Ford Motor Company [now Visteon Portuguesa Lda], and Grupo Espirito Santo) led the initiative to create a not-for-profit structure and were legally constituted as the Board of Trustees. The Trustees each appointed a representative to sit on the Board. Management of the school was delegated to a professional Director hired by and accountable to the Board. Click here to know more.

Building up a reputation of excellence


  • MSA

CAISL renewed accreditation status with Middle States Association (MSA) Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education in May of 2022 after undergoing the process during the school year of 2020-2021 and a Team Visit of MSA representatives in October 2022.  As a result of this process, CAISL will remain accredited through July 2029 and will undergo another re-accreditation process in the 18 months prior. We welcome visitors to read all about the process and conclusions here.

Licenses and Accreditation

CAISL - Recognized and approved.
  • Before MSA

The accreditation status first came in 1982 but with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Council of International Schools (CIS), and it was renewed consequently every 10 years until 2012. However, after CAISL's professional staff and Board of Trustees undertook an analysis of accreditation agencies, resulting from some changes of direction and philosophy implemented by the agencies, CAISL decided to transfer the accreditation from NEASC and CIS to Middle States Association (MSA) Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.  This transfer was effective as of August 1, 2019. 

  • IB Diploma

The International Baccalaureate Organization authorized the school to begin the Diploma Program for the last two years of High School with the first exams taking place in May of 2000.

  • Permanent License from the Ministry of Education

In 2003, because of the move to a new campus, CAISL's alvará [license] with the Ministry of Education was revised and renewed.   CAISL operates under permanent license to operate an American School with programs for Early Childhood, Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, and High School (offering the American High School Diploma and the International Baccalaureate Diploma)

  • State-Department

Once the American International School of Lisbon became a not-for-profit foundation, the State Department of the United States of America recognized AISL as a State-Department supported school. CAISL is still, to this day, the only American School sponsored by the Department of State in Portugal.

Made with Padlet
Old photo showing early stages of St. Columban's (former CAISL)

An early picture of the students and staff of St. Columban's. Mr. McKenna is in the middle row to the right

Why is our school named after Frank C. Carlucci?

Photograph of Ambassador Carlucci and his wife in front of the school building with his name


In 2001, the American International School of Lisbon added the name of Frank C. Carlucci, Ambassador of the USA to Portugal in the years immediately following the 1974 revolution, to honor Ambassador Carlucci and the long years of friendship and mutual support between the USA and Portugal.


CAISL is a student-centered educational community in which we challenge ourselves and each other to do our best and to make positive contributions to our diverse and ever-changing world.