The Hockaday School
11600 Welch Rd.
Like a dowager, Hockaday sits in North Dallas, old, prestigious and proper. It’s a place for society’s ladies, where at graduation girls still wear floor-length, white garden dresses, and wide-brimmed, pastel hats.
The campus is large (100 acres) and facilities are first class -10 buildings worth $10 million. Dallas’ leading business and society figures serve on Hockaday’s board.
Hockaday is a place, as one administrator put it, “where a girl can savor growing into womanhood.” Because teachers spend only a half-day in the classroom, there’s plenty of time for them to help Hockaday girls make the transition.
The best chance to gain admittance to Hockaday is at the preschool level, or at the fifth grade, when an additional section is opened. In other grades only about five openings occur annually, making admission difficult at best.
About 10 per cent of the graduates become National Merit semi-finalists. Almost all are admitted to the college of their choice, and although some Hockaday graduates do attend big-name universities, many opt to stay near home.
St. Mark’s School of Texas
10600 Preston Rd.
For years, St. Mark’s has been the place to send your son if you’re looking for an all-male, private school. And it’s no wonder, with a dynamite board of trustees, and a cluster of well-appointed buildings, including, would you believe, a planetarium.
St. Mark’s has the pedigree, dating back to 1933 when some of Dallas’ finest founded The Texas Country Day School, an ancestor of St. Mark’s.
Nowadays, an all-male student body isn’t particularly important to the school, because St. Mark’s graduates tend to flock to UT-Austin. Way back when, the prep school atmosphere was thought to be instrumental in preparing Dallas boys for places like Harvard and Yale.
During the 1960’s, St. Mark’s built a reputation on math and science, but now is trying to stress the arts too. The math emphasis still lingers and seniors score high on the college entrance exam math tests, but closer to average on verbal sections. Last spring produced a bumper crop of National Merit semi-finalists, 10, while usually the number is somewhat lower.
St. Mark’s each year accepts 25 first graders, 17 second graders and later adds 25 boys at the fifth grade and 50 more at the seventh. Thereafter only about one or two are admitted to each class every year.
St. Mark’s wants to see the boy grow into the man. Teachers have plenty of time to coach them at one thing or another – football, photography, etc. Physical activity is important and sports abound. If you can’t handle football or basketball, there’s always inter scholastic water polo.
14255 Midway Rd.
Greenhill carved its niche among Dallas’ private schools by trying a simple formula – putting boys and girls together in the same classroom. “A more normal approach to living,” as one administrator puts it. “It’s a place where the mystery of the opposite sex disappears quickly.”
Greenhill was founded in 1950 as a progressive offshoot of St. Mark’s, and remains avant-garde. Its students don’t wear uniforms, educational innovations find their way here quickly and the school actively seeks children from various financial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Whatever the attraction, Greenhill receives 700 applications for about 100 openings annually.
If it’s a daughter you want in Greenhill, be prepared for tougher competition than the male candidates face. Considerably more girls apply than do boys. The best shot at getting in Greenhill is kindergarten, with 72 openings. Thereafter, the number of openings falls sharply.
Greenhill’s graduates attend a wide variety of colleges, nearly all co-ed, with fewer flocking to SMU and UT-Austin than from St. Mark’s or Hockaday. The school produces a few National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists each year and, like St. Mark’s students, Greenhill graduates excel in college entrance math exams but perform closer to average on verbal sections.
Jesuit College Prep School
12345 Inwood Rd.
For thirty years Dallas’ leading Catholic families have been sending their sons to Jesuit Prep, first in an old orphanage at Oak Lawn and Blackburn, and after the families moved north, to the school’s present location in far North Dallas.
Jesuit demands more than homework from its students. Every senior must complete 100 hours of volunteer service with a community organization as part of his graduation requirements. In the words of Jesuit Principal Rev. Patrick Koch: “We want to educate men to become agents of change in their community, men who are willing to apply Christian values to community problems.”
Four out of five Jesuit students are Catholic. Most students are admitted in the ninth grade. Motivation and performance are the most important admission factors. Native intelligence is nice, but a record of non-performance in the classroom will keep a young man out of Jesuit.
Although UT-Austin is a favorite college choice for Jesuit grads, a fair share of the school’s preps wind up in places like the U.S. Naval Academy, MIT and Georgetown University.
4900 Walnut Hill Ln.
If one were to choose what a campus ought to look like, Ursuline would be it. Set far back off Walnut Hill Lane, Ursuline’s sprawling buildings straddle hilly grounds, shaded by scores of big trees. Neatly-manicured courtyards separate some of the buildings, which house Ursuline’s large student body.
Founded 100 years ago, the school is run by Ursuline nuns. Like its male, Catholic counterpart, Jesuit, Ursuline emphasizes community service, requiring graduates to spend two weeks working with a community agency. High school curriculum is not unusual, beyond four years of foreign language and religious training (required). Ursuline also runs a Montessori school, which takes children as young as 18 months. All in all, Ursuline, admits more than 200 new students annually, including a sizeable number at the ninth grade level.
Ursuline stands as a monument to the traditional Catholic school concept of schooling boys and girls separately. Although newer Catholic schools have co-ed teaching in the same building, Ursuline remains the Catholic academy for Dallas girls.
Cistercian Prep School
Irving Parents of Cistercian students call the education “rigorous,” which may be an understatement. Cistercian is one of the toughest, if not the toughest private school for boys in the county.
Located on a hill near the University of Dallas campus, the school is operated by Cistercian fathers – a scholarly Catholic order from Europe. Classes begin in the fifth grade, with 28 students. Admission after that is chancy at best. Education here means liberal arts, particularly English, math and foreign languages. (Cistercian boys study Spanish or French for five years and Latin or German for an additional two years.) Religion classes are required, but non-Catholic students (about one-third of the student body) may be excused.
All the rigor seems to pay off at graduation time. Most Cistercian graduates score in the top ten per cent of national exams and several become National Merit semi-finalists. Out of last spring’s graduating class of 21, more than a third wound up in colleges like Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Washington & Lee.
11611 Inwood Rd.
Some swear by it, others swear at it. But make no mistake, Lamplighter is the hottest thing in Dallas private schools. The school has a national reputation for innovative childhood education, a 21st century O’Neil Ford building and a board of trustees that could probably buy the public schools, lock, stock and blackboards.
It also has a waiting list for preschool which, for all practical purposes, is closed to all but those who already have a brother or sister in school (a sure thing), and those with the patience of Job or the luck of James Bond. By first grade, many Lamplighter children have been siphoned off by Hockaday, St. Mark’s or Greenhill, so the outlook is better.
Inside the classroom, Lamplighter children are competing with themselves. Each child is measured against his own ability, instead of his classmates’ abilities. Outside the classroom, children can go out to the barn for a romp in the hayloft or to play with animals. Fourth graders gather eggs from hens owned by the students’ mythical corporation, Lamplighter Layers, Inc., which are sold to parents.
Parents can view classes from glass-enclosed, second-floor observation hallways while eavesdropping on special telephones. Children never know parents are watching.
All the Lamplighter showmanship is impressive, but parents should look beyond the barnyard to be certain the school really is what they’re looking for. It’s not hard to find parents of former Lamplighter students who are now wondering about the school, but obviously, there are a lot more who are not.
Saint Michael School
“A Christian education” is the byword at Saint Michael. “We have children who can’t wait to go to chapel each morning,” one teacher said, referring to the school’s 15-minute chapel service. For a parent who wants his child in a solid Protestant school with some old fashioned discipline, Saint Michael is the place.
The religion-discipline formula seems popular, particularly in the preschool grades where applications are numerous. About the only way to enroll one child at the preschool level is if you already have another in the school.
But by kindergarten, qualified children without siblings in Saint Michael can usually make it in. The waiting list diminishes toward the school’s sixth and final grade level.
Curriculum is rigorous. Three-year-olds begin learning Spanish, and by the fourth grade, children are studying French. Religion is required in grades four, five and six.
Nearly all Saint Michael students go on to private schools, mostly to Hockaday, St. Mark’s and Ursuline.
Checklist for Selecting a School
Admission to one of the top eight or ten private schools in Dallas is clearly limited by the parents’ financial resources, the intellectual potential of their child and the number of desks available at a given school at a given time.
But there are other good private schools – many of them lower in cost and less stringent on entrance requirements – worth considering. Unfortunately, there are some highly questionable institutions as well.
So how is a parent to select from among the 75 or so listed in the current issue of the Yellow Pages?
Look for accreditation, administrators and educators say. Generally speaking, private schools which are accredited by a recognized agency – Texas Education Agency, Southern Association of Schools and-or the Independent School Association of the Southwest – are pretty safe bets.
Without such accreditation there is a good possibility you will encounter problems down the line, among them credit transfer difficulties and unusually tough admission requirements to many four-year colleges and universities.
In addition to the accreditation, there are other questions that should be asked of officials of the chosen school. The answers you get to the following questions, coupled with good sense, are your best guide.
Car Waxes and Classrooms: The Ultimate Conglomerate?
While pondering education alternatives, consider this one: Buy your own private school as Curtis Bruner has done.
Bruner is president and founder of Classic Products Ltd. of Arlington , and while one of his company’s products is polishing cars (Classic Car Wax), another division is polishing young minds.
Three years ago, Bruner gained the support of his business partners and began acquiring private schools in the Dallas area. His Classic Schools system now has an even dozen institutions including ten child development and Montessori schools, Allencrest (grades 4-12), and Ferguson (grades 1-9). Total enrollment is said to be about 500.
Classic Schools administrator Howard Forman calls Bruner “a very concerned person” who “became fed up with what he sees coming out of the public school system.”
Forman said Bruner believes that the “same principles of sales management” that built the chemical company can be applied successfully to education.
How does one go about buying a school?
“We simply keep our eyes and ears open for schools that are available,” Forman said. “If we decide that some good can be done with them, we buy.”
Forman admits that Classic Schools is running in the red, but he says he is confident the chain school system eventually will become a profit-making venture.
“But our real goal,” he said, “is to make a noise in the education field.”
□Are you welcome in the school’s classes? If not, forget it. If you are, make a visit and look at class size and observe what the students are doing with their time. Talk to a number of teachers.
□Is the school a non-profit institution? Research indicates nonprofit schools provide a better education than those whose first concern is money.
□How old is the school and why was it founded? The 1971 desegregation ruling affecting Dallas spawned a number of new private schools, some of them more concerned with capitalizing on integration hysteria than with providing a solid learning experience.
□Are qualified counselors on the staff? A strong cast of non-teaching professionals can be considered a major plus.
□Is the curriculum appropriate to future needs? Many church-related schools place heavy emphasis on religious education. There is no quarrel here, but many of these required courses are not transferable should the student decide to return to public school.
□ Are all courses taught on the state-approved list? If they are, you can be assured the courses will transfer should you need to seek another school for one reason or another.
□ Do the teachers work in their field of expertise? A lot of people have college degrees, even teaching certificates, but a language major is of little value in a chemistry laboratory.
The Hockaday School