How will Dallas’ premier boy’s school weather the ouster of its headmaster?

Ted Whatley could not believe his ears. He was unwanted. Finished. Fired. After spending one-half of his working life as headmaster at St. Mark’s School, he was being given the boot. Not that he hadn’t half expected bad news. There were things that he knew troubled the school’s Old Dallas Money executive committee. And when he saw board president Spencer Taylor at his door that Saturday afternoon, along with Executive Committee Chairman D. Wayne Calloway, his heart jumped up about two inches.

But he had expected to have his career punted with pomp and circumstance, perhaps after a discussion with the executive committee or even the full 70-member board of trustees -by firing squad as it were. This was like getting strangled in his sleep. “Ted,” Spencer Taylor was saying, “we’ve polled the executive committee and it’s time for new leadership.” There was, he recalled, no further explanation from Spencer Taylor. There was, however, an offer: If you stay through graduation and “faithfully perform” the duties of headmaster, we’ll pay you an extra year’s salary. We’ll even let your son go to school next year for free. And we’ll let you call it a resignation.

To Spencer Taylor and Wayne Calloway, it seemed like the only fair and decent thing to do.

It sounded different from where Whatley was seated. To him it sounded like, “Be a good boy, Ted, and keep your mouth shut, and make it easy on all of us, and we’ll pay you off handsomely.” He felt sick, like he had lost a child. He told Taylor and Calloway, “I’m incapable of responding to that right now.” And then he got the hell out of Dallas, to see the boys – his boys -at the Kincaid track meet in Houston. St. Mark’s finished third. Sometime before the next morning, he decided that he would leave St. Mark’s with a bang, not a whimper. Maybe that afternoon he even began composing his graduation-day speech -a speech in which he would let a few of those pinstriped trustees have an awfully large piece of his mind. Not for him the course of going quietly. He might not live to fight another day, but that was the way it had to be for him.

No matter how Ted Whatley left St. Mark’s, his departure would shake the school. Ever since his predecessor was fired in 1969, Whatley had been the man deciding what courses should be taught, which teachers should be hired and which boys should be given second chances or walking papers. But the way the board removed Whatley and the way he responded have caused students, faculty and parents at the city’s most prestigious boy’s school to re-examine the very nature of the school and its leadership. His departure, coupled with the influx of youthful alumni on the school’s executive committee, marks an important turning point in the school’s history, which stretches back 49 years to a shaky founding on the wild plains of the then-untamed Preston Road-Walnut Hill area.

THERE ARE some prep schools where the headmaster embodies the institution’s traditions and goals. St. Mark’s is not one of them. St. Mark’s has its roots in its board of directors, which in turn is rooted in the city’s most-established establishment – oil, high technology and, in the old days, cotton.

St. Mark’s predecessor, the Texas Country Day School, opened in the fall of 1933. Chief among its founders was Wirt Davis, an oilman with a young son who he thought should get a first-rate education without having to take a five-day train ride to the East. Davis got his friend Eugene McDermott of Geophysical Services Co. (now Texas Instruments) interested in the school as early as 1937. McDermott and his wife, Margaret, then got their friends Cecil and Ida Green interested in the school. Though they were childless themselves, Ralph Rogers, a former board president, recalls, the Greens “always felt that the country’s future depended on leadership… and that leadership depended on education.”

And education depended on money. Dr. P.O’B. Montgomery, an alumnus and former president of the school’s board of trustees, recalls that when he felt burdened by his work for St. Mark’s, he would remember McDermott’s description of early board meetings: “They would pass around a copy of the financial statement, and everyone would get out his checkbook to cover his share of the deficit.”

When the Great Depression caused the city’s old cotton leadership to pass the economic baton to the emerging oil tycoons, the most poignant transfer occurred within the Texas Country Day community. Shepherd King, a cotton baron who had built the Turtle Creek house now known as The Mansion, was nearly bankrupt. His friend Freeman Burford, who’d grown rich off the East Texas oil fields, had always liked the house. And King had always thought well of the Burford house on Miramar in Highland Park. So the two families switched residences, with Burford paying King an additional $175,000 to help tide him over temporarily hard times. Burford, who donated the land that allowed Texas Country Day (TCD) to move to Preston just south of Royal, had a son at TCD. So did King. King’s son turned out to be the more interesting, changing his middle name to “Abdulla” and running off with a belly dancer. “She threw him over, of course,” Dr. Montgomery says.

The school’s backers were able to keep it afloat until 1950, but it still had only 110 students, no endowment and perennial financial problems. The Episcopal Cathedral School was similarly afflicted, so the two were merged in the hope of forming one solvent institution. The new school, called St. Mark’s (the name St. John’s had recently been claimed by a new school in Houston), would have an Episcopal chaplain but would remain nonsectarian.

Since 1950, the school has had five headmasters-Robert Iglehart, who brought the school choir into regional fame; L. Ralston Thomas, a caretaker headmaster hired after Iglehart’s departure; Thomas B. Hartmann, who eliminated the boarding department of the school and hired several bright young teachers (including a history instructor named John T. Whatley); Christopher Berrisford, a scholarly Englishman who cemented the school’s academic reputation; and Whatley.

The school also has had numerous board presidents, including McDermott, Cecil Green, Elvis L. Mason, Montgomery, Rogers and Morris G. Spencer. The difference between the headmasters and the board presidents is that the ex-presidents are still around. Under the school’s charter, the ex-presidents serve as a nominating committee, proposing members and officers of the board of directors and the executive committee. Technically, the board fills those offices by election. But, Rogers says, as far as he knows, it always has merely approved the nominating committee’s recommendations. The selection process alone has given the school a certain stability, along with a decidedly conservative philosophy.

Berrisford, for instance, left Dallas due to tensions in the school caused by the Vietnam War. He had hired several fiery and unorthodox young teachers, including one young man who burned an American flag in his classroom to show the fleeting’ nature of symbols. At the next board meeting, an AU-American lineman from West Point asked Berrisford if the stories he had heard about the flag-burning were true. “Yes, he did that,” Berrisford replied.

“Did you fire him?”

“No,” said Berrisford, a tenacious defender of academic freedom.

“Well,” the West Point-trained trustee thundered, “goddam it, you should have!”

EVER YTHING ART does is an event, and as Art entered his final year at St. Mark’s last fall, he decided he’d better do something. As he surveyed his fellow seniors, he realized that there was a disturbing lack of truly outrageous, innovative thought.

True, during the summer, one of his classmates had made a small impression on water-skiers at the Old Fishin’ Hole by riding his “Wet Bike” across the lake buck naked. But that seemed too.. .adolescent. Then there was the Saint Mark’s Attack, Crunch and Kill Team, alias SMACK T. It had gotten off to a good start, rolling out to Tyler to give the Hockaday senior girls an impromptu fireworks display at about 3 a.m., while the young ladies were on their annual “retreat. ” But lately SMACKT had fallen on hard times, doing nothing more daring than applying shoe-polish graffiti to the Hockaday campus’ windows. Juvenile scrawls like “Barefoot and Pregnant.” No, SMA CKT was hardly worthy of the attention of serious men. Besides, there were no girls in it, and Art liked girls. Girls, he knew, contributed to the formation of well-rounded young men.

Art knew that some of his friends had used marijuana, and a few had used cocaine. But that sort of behavior wasn’t considered cool at St. Mark’s, and nobody, but nobody, would want to do it around the school. He had something more wholesome in mind. Something that could bring him the thrill of victory without the agony of 20 to life in Huntsville.

Art, therefore, founded the Poets Club. Every Friday around 7 a.m., four or five St. Mark’s students and a handful of young ladies from Hockaday would gather at Thackery Park. There, under the tall pines, some of the members would break out the Minute Maid and the vodka and mix the official Poets drink, the screwdriver. There, they adorned one of the trees with gift- wrap ribbons and held an unofficial Christmas party attended by maybe 40 students. And there, week after week, some of them got absolutely wasted.

Art, for instance, came to school loaded every Friday morning. But that wasn’t the point. The point was, the Poets Club was a total success. Alone among St. Mark’s activities, it drew his classmates out of bed at 6:30 a.m. Unlike the Mother-May-1 St. Mark’s “mixers,” it was a healthy heterosexual activity in which students could relate to each other as adults.

Art had struck a blow for student self-determination. He had broken what he liked to call the St. Mark’s Oedipus Complex. He also had committed a Class C misdemeanor; he’d just as soon not have his real name become a household word in Dallas.

WHATLEY IS a history teacher by training, and consequently is accustomed to events that seem to make very little sense. But, from his perspective, his firing flew in the face of logic. As he saw it, 1982 was one of St. Mark’s finest years.

The graduating class of 68 students, for instance, included 14 National Merit Finalists, an all-time high for the school. W.T. White High School, located only a few miles away in the Dallas Independent School District, had a graduating class of roughly 520 students and only three National Merit Finalists. And the college acceptances for the St. Mark’s class of ’82 were astonishing. Stanford accepted five seniors, Princeton took seven and Harvard accepted two. The class average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score was 1,227, compared with a national average among college-bound students of only 920 (SATs are scored separately for verbal and math skills, with a combined scale of 400 to 1,600). And while national SAT averages have been falling for the past decade, scores at St. Mark’s have been rising.

Nor was this a class of study grinds. The valedictorian, Michael Herring, was a three-season letterman on the football, soccer and track teams, and set the school record in the 800-meter run. Two seniors, Eric Reeves and David Genecov, won state wrestling titles. The soccer team won its second straight North Texas High School Soccer Association title, and the tennis team retained its championship title in the Metro Tennis League. The football team broke even, and the basketball team went 19 and 12. Not bad for a school with only 738 students, spread across 12 grades.

Nor were the students the only bright spots. The annual fund drive had netted almost $700,000, with approximately half of the school’s alumni contributing something to the cause. A newly renovated library, containing 25,000 volumes, was dedicated to Cecil Green and his wife, Ida, who had contributed $1.5 million to an endowment campaign that brought in a staggering $6.3 million in new donations.

The faculty, long the school’s major asset, was as strong as ever. Of the 93 teachers, 47 had master’s degrees and six had Ph.D.’s. And the group was overwhelmingly behind Whatley; after his firing, roughly half signed a protest letter addressed to the board of trustees and its executive committee, which actually runs the school. “Ted hired most of the faculty, and if things are going well, we have to give the credit to him,” says one young teacher.

TO SOME extent, 1982 was irrelevant to Ted Whatley’s future. As early as last spring, many members of the St. Mark’s executive committee had decided that Whatley’s time was up. They approached Ralph B. Rogers, who as a former president of the board of trustees still played a major role in the affairs of the school. “I told them that they should try to work with Ted, to see that they were not rushing into anything,” Rogers says.

And disenchantment with Whatley’s leadership may have begun to spread even earlier, back roughly three years when he went through a bruising divorce. Never a bureaucrat or gung-ho manager, the strength of Whatley’s style had been his informal, freewheeling but all-encompassing interest in the school. After the divorce, Whatley’s friends say, that interest began to wane. “It just seemed like his overall demeanor was that he was preoccupied, and I think that he felt that way about himself,” one teacher says. “There was sort of a sense of drift. This year,” the friend added, “I think Ted really came around. I think this was one of his best years.”

By this year, however, Whatley had other problems -the kind afflicting many institutional heads who have made years of decisions, each one of them potentially alienating someone with some degree of power over his job. Some of his problems may have been caused by his personal style, but some just came with the turf. They concerned basic philosophical issues on which reasonable men could disagree.

Administrative style was one such area. Whatley liked to run an informal ship, partly because he was not interested in flow charts, information systems or rigid management, but partly because he believed his colleagues did their best work when they were left pretty much to their own devices, save for a suggestion every now and then. The school’s 1978 outside evaluation illustrated the benefits and problems caused by such an approach. “Many people express satisfaction with the informal style that seems to pervade” the school, the independent experts said, but it “does not appear clear to many faculty members who is responsible for what decisions, particularly the important ones.”

And, of course, the school’s trustees included many men who saw no dichotomy between sound, formal management systems and academic freedom. From their perspective, St. Mark’s was, in part, a $2.6 million business, with a capital plant worth about $20 million. “You have to have some sort of [management] system for that,” says one powerful board member. “You can’t do it by feel, and ’by golly’ and wishes and dreams.”

Among the trustees were some of the cream of Dallas businessmen. Naturally they had a business perspective. Spencer L. Taylor, the president of the board, is head of drilling operations for Sedco. D. Wayne Calloway, then chairman of the executive committee, is president of the Frito-Lay Co. Robert W. Decherd, the committee’s new vice chairman, is a 1969 St. Mark’s alumnus and is preparing to assume leadership of his family’s newspaper, The Dallas Morning News. And Robert K. Hoffman, the new executive committee chairman, is a 1965 alumnus and is making his fortune in the bottling business.

Then there was the question of how important athletics should be at St. Mark’s, and how important football should be to athletics.

One of Whatley’s friends recalls sitting with him several years ago at a football game against a team in Houston. St. Mark’s was ahead “by 30 or 40 points” when its coach decided to put in his second string. “It was late in the fourth quarter, and after a while it looked like the other team might score, so we put in the first string and pounded them some more,” he recalls. Whatley, a lanky, softspoken Harvard graduate given to Eastern Preppy dress, believes in the old rules of sportsmanship. He was mortified. “I’ve never seen Ted so mad,” his friend recalls. “He said, ’We don’t have to beat them that bad’.”

The St. Mark’s coach, as it turned out, was as poor at teaching as he was proficient at coaching. Whatley, with the support of most of his staff, fired the man. “The notion of a specialist seemed out of place at St. Mark’s,” he says. On the other hand, St. Mark’s went 2-8 in football the next year, and the school “establishment” has always had a warm spot for football. Indeed, the school’s first large scholarship program was for football players. Predictably enough, there was an abortive attempt during the winter of 1981 to create an “athletic committee” within the board of trustees.

Whatley’s stand on academic probation also fueled the idea that he was “anti-athletic.” In a word, Whatley was for academic probation. If one of his boys was doing D-level work in two courses or more, he could not participate in extracurricular activities. Period. And that went for football, too. Until a few years ago, however, St. Mark’s had not adopted such a policy despite its high academic reputation. When the policy was adopted, Whatley had to be host to a meeting of 100-odd angry parents, as well as a few supporters of the change. “Some people felt that the school should offer the possibility for the boys to develop their talents, whatever their talents might happen to be, and if the talents happened to be in the athletic area, the school should not thwart that,” says a ranking English teacher. “Others, including Ted, thought that the school should never forget that it is primarily an academic institution.”

HARRY WAS 18, and resentful. Here it was, the evening of his birthday, and he could not go out and drink legally. Had it been 1981, he would have been legal. But noooo, it was 1982 and the drinking age was 19. Thank you, Governor Clements. So Harry and three of his friends were just sort of moping around in the privacy of one of their own homes. And drinking.

And all of a sudden, around 10:30, an idea just sort of happened to them. They decided to get drunk and feast their eyes on some naked female flesh. They drove to The Fare club on Greenville Avenue.

It was outstanding. All around them were G-stringed, lissome young ladies doing table-top moves that would snap the spine of many a Hockaday girl. There was a fine dew on the firm, bare chests of the dancers, as fine as the condensation on the beer mugs resting under each of their open mouths.

The cop sauntered onto the floor after no more than 10 minutes-two lousy songs. Maybe it was the lingering trace of acne, or maybe they just seemed too interested. Maybe cops can smell the fresh plastic on a phony ID. At any rate, he swaggered di-rectly to their table and asked, rhetorically, “How old are you boys?”

Eighteen, Harry answered. He smiled his best winning smile and mentioned that it was his birthday.

At the jail, sans belt, money and boots, Harry decided not to use his phone call- they really did let you have one phone call – to wake up his parents. One of his friends had a lawyer who could get them out, no sweat. With any luck, he’d be home within a couple of hours.

In his cell, Harry met Dee-troit, who thought the white boy’s story was funnier than hell. Dee-troit had a pretty good sense of humor. “Why are you in here?” Harry asked him.

“I’m back in,” Dee-troit said, noting that he’d recently been released from prison after pulling some time for manslaughter.

“Oh, really,” asked Harry, with his most winning smile. “Did you kill the guy, or were you framed?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Dee-troit, “1 blew the guy’s head off.”

Harry got home as the sun began to rise. His parents were miffed, but mostly that he hadn’t called them. The judge didn’t seem too upset; he handed out 50 hours of community-service time, to be donated this summer.

Even the teachers didn’t seem upset. Someone always tells a teacher or two at St. Mark’s, but the worst that Harry caught from the faculty was an occasional, “Seen any good jails lately?”

Really, Harry figured, it hadn’t been that bad a birthday. It wasn’t a big deal-less of a deal than, say, the two St. Mark’s seniors who’d been arrested in Austin for driving a golf cart into a hotel swimming pool.

On the other hand, it was a Class C misdemeanor; he’d just as soon not have his real name become a household word in Dallas.

HAD TED WHATLEY decided that his number-one goal for the 1982 school year would be to avoid being fired, he might be returning to St. Mark’s next year. He was on probation beginning last fall, and he knew it.

Before the school year began, he told Spencer Taylor that if the executive committee wanted him to step aside within a year or so, he would appreciate an early word from them so that he could discreetly look for another headmastership while he still was at St. Mark’s. “There was no response,” he says, but whether he knew it or not, the silence was his answer.

Only a few months into the school year, it was plain that “management” was very much on the trustees’ minds. Whatley found himself helping a group from Frito-Lay study the school’s management systems; he found himself heading a “productivity study;” and he watched while a blue-ribbon panel examined the lower school. At the executive committee’s request, he even hired a professional manager to help run the school, and restructured his administration.

But Whatley thought of himself as a people-person, and the idea of spending his mornings discussing information flow and his afternoons hashing over word-processing equipment put something of a chill in his blood. “1 look back,” he says, “and I think, ’My God, I’ve wasted a year of my life.’ ” It seems likely that his feelings were apparent to the school’s executive committee. Whatley talked about appointing a subordinate as “liaison” with the trustees-four trustee committees had to approve a salary budget before it could be adopted -and some of the trustees thought Whatley should be their liaison, as his predecessors had been. Then, in the spring, Whatley appointed a new head of the lower school without consulting the trustees, whose blue-ribbon committee had not yet completed its report. And a month before his contract was to be renewed, he told members of the school’s executive committee that he would be marrying a member of the board of trustees, Melba Greenlee, and that by the fall he would have moved out of the headmaster’s home on the campus.

When the executive committee met in April, it was unanimous. Its arrangement with Whatley had turned sour. He had not committed any single atrocity, but an accumulation of small grievances indicated that he was no longer the man they wanted. “If you talked to 20 people on the board you would be likely to get 30 different specific reasons” for Whatley’s dismissal, says Calloway.

The trustees on the executive committee, who traditionally have acted as the school’s governing board, thought that Whatley would want to resign. To preserve his credibility, they say. they did not notify the 50-odd members of the board of trustees who were not on the executive committee. When Whatley announced that he had been fired, several trustees heard the news from their wives or their sons. They were upset, and so were many parents and most faculty members. (Taylor tried to set the faculty at ease with a sort of c’est la vie joke that blew up right in his astonished face. There are three professions notorious for their lack of job security, he said: football coaches, prostitutes and headmasters.)

There was even a short-lived call for the executive committee to resign, and one trustee, E. Grant Fitts, wrote Taylor a letter saying that the full board of trustees “should redefine the authority of the executive committee.” That suggestion was overwhelmingly rejected.

It seemed like forever since Ted Whatley had succeeded Chris Berrisford. The year was 1969, and he had come to St. Mark’s as an “inside” man. The school’s external reputation was solid, but it needed someone who, like Iglehart years before, could sense every current among students and faculty and could put the school back together.

He did that, and more. He attended disciplinary hearings that he could just as easily have skipped, so he would know everything possible about each case. He spoke personally each summer to every upcoming senior and to his parents, and began a program under which students meet each morning in groups of 10 or so with a designated faculty member who is their advisor. Whatley even volunteered for advising duty. “Supposedly, you meet with your advisor from 8 [a.m.] to 8:15,” says valedictorian Michael Herring, who praised Whatley in his graduation speech by saying, “To me, Mr. Whatley is St. Mark’s in many ways.” Some advisors, Herring adds, show up at 8:15, barely in time to take attendance. “Mr. Whatley,” he says, “is always there. He stands behind us.”

Whatley eagerly approved a suggestion that younger students be taken on school-sponsored wilderness trips, and that the school’s eight-day camping excursion in the Pecos wilderness area is an annual rite of passage for ninth-graders, a transition away from their frequently overprotected, air-conditioned childhoods and toward physical and intellectual self-reliance.

There was more -curriculum changes in the science and language departments, plus the advent of tough new advance-placement courses, for instance. But what students remember about Ted Whatley is, “He was always there” or “He took a chance on me” or “He chewed me out, but it was for my own good.” And what the teachers remember is his willingness to cut through red tape (ignore the budget, if need be) if they had to attend an important seminar, or the way he let them take their own ideas and run with them. If he disagreed with them, he might negotiate, but he would never give up. The St. Mark’s faculty bought a full-page advertisement in the final issue of the school paper, the ReMarker. It read, in part:

“You sought diversity and encouraged tolerance.. .Your humanity pervades this school and is perhaps the most profound, and fragile, part of your legacy.”

MICHAEL DITTMAR was not the world’s greatest athlete, but he was a hustler and he was determined to make the varsity soccer team as a senior or die trying. So even though it was just a preseason practice, he was sprinting flat-out when he hit the goalie and, somehow, snapped the two bones in his lower right leg like a couple of matchsticks.

His doctor at Presbyterian Hospital, just to be careful, kept him under observation for two days. On the second evening, he fell asleep thinking that he would leave the hospital the next morning. In the middle of the night his roommate called the floor nurse; Michael was snoring so loudly that he couldn’t sleep.

To the nurse, it sounded like Michael was suffocating. At about 3 a.m., she put him on oxygen and the hospital notified his parents. By 7 a.m. the next morning – a Thursday-St. Mark’s headmaster, Ted Whatley was at the hospital with them. Other members of the St. Mark’s faculty would follow.

Michael’s lungs were being choked by microscopic bits of fat from the marrow of his broken bones. He was put on a respirator; his doctor said that of the two previous patients he knew of who suffered from a fat embolism, one had lasting brain damage and the other had died.

Through morning assemblies and word-of-mouth, Michael’s friends at St. Mark’s monitored his progress. His kidneys had failed; they had boosted his oxygen to 100 percent, at high pressure; his right lung collapsed, blown out like an old tire; the doctors were doing a tracheotomy to re-inflate the lung; he had developed pneumonia.

On Saturday, while Michael still was unconscious, his friends were supposed to be enjoying themselves at their annual “Field Day” with the girls from Hockaday. But that didn’t feel right. Someone suggested a visit to the hospital, and the entire class of 68 seniors migrated to Presbyterian, where they stayed for several hours. Some talked to his family and some prayed.

By Saturday evening, the hospital staff felt that Michael probably would pull through, though they worried about possible brain damage.

“The first thing I remember was waking up on Thanksgiving morning, which was exactly a week after I passed out, “Michael recalls. “The amazing thing to me was that during that whole week, even though no one could see me, millions of people came to the hospital.”

After his discharge, he set out to recoup the five weeks of schooling that he had missed. His advisor, John Joy, came to his house to tutor him in chemistry. Jack Hollon, head of the math department, tutored him in calculus. After Christmas Michael took all his exams on-time except one, which he delayed for three days.

His grade-point average increased for the quarter.

In the December 17 issue of the student newspaper, the ReMarker, Michael’s parents wrote a thank-you letter that said, in part, “St. Mark’s said – or better still, demonstrated-something wonderful about itself to us…. You all showed a generous spirit which told us more clearly than ever why we’ve been so proud and happy to be among you these many years.”

IN HIS FINAL speech to the St. Mark’s community, Ted Whatley seemed worried about his legacy, and bitter at his separation from the school. There was a danger, he said, that the school could trade “imaginary gains for real losses.” There was a danger that men and women, elevated above their peers by the luck of their birth or of the marketplace, might “begin to believe in our own invincibility.” There was a risk that those in charge would desire “control over others, versus relations with them.” There was a chance that the school could waste its time and energy focusing on quantitative achievements and management systems that “are trivial to the real needs of an educational institution.” Caring, he said, “cannot be institutionalized.” And an obsession with “so-called better management.. .will paralyze the human spirit.”

It was, in a sense, a rallying call against complacency. And it echoed the sentiments of Herring and of class president D.J. Wood, who spoke of the possibility that without their headmaster’s liberalizing influence, the school might grow too complacent and conservative.

St. Mark’s has quite a bit to be complacent about. “I would say that St. Mark’s is among the top handful of schools in the country,” says Stanford University admissions dean Fred Hargadon. “I think that there are other schools that have equally good students that don’t get as much out of them.”

Its facilities are unbelievable; the science department alone has access to a planetarium and 16-inch reflecting telescope, greenhouses with plants from three distinct climates and private laboratories for independent-study projects.

Its classes are small- 16 or 17 students, on the average -and its students are there to study. They might drink a bit, cut up in class and do all those “boys will be boys” things, but they are aware that their parents are paying through the nose to send them to St. Mark’s, and for a good ! reason. They could get thrown out of i school if they did anything really stupid, and they know it and play within the rules.

Its faculty is not protected or burdened by civil-service rules, so it can attract and keep talented young teachers, and lure ex- perienced teachers away from the public schools. “The advantages of being here are obvious,” says Liz Trice, a recent defector’ from Hillcrest High School. “I was responsible for 150 students at Hillcrest. Here I am responsible for 50. That is very important for an English teacher; you can assign and grade more papers.”

As for the men who lead the school’s board of trustees, they can congratulate themselves on surviving the days when all private schools in Texas were viewed as “reform” schools, and on grooming a new generation of leaders for St. Mark’s. The new generation, represented by Hoffman and Decherd, will merely have to keep the school on top.

Which can be a tricky business. Among the thornier questions facing the new executive committee are the hiring of a new headmaster and such long-range matters as how large the school should be and whether it should become coeducational. Many teachers and students say the boys would get better educations if girls worked with them in class, on the student newspaper and in all those situations akin to “real world” working relationships between the sexes. But some students, and many trustees, say the single-sex education is a venerable and valuable tradition, one that fosters camaraderie and eliminates many classroom distractions. (Hockaday girls have occasionally accused St. Mark’s boys of male chauvinist pigism, but one St. Mark’s senior dismissed those complaints by saying, “The girls who say that are ugly.” Case closed.)

Another key agenda item for the trustees, numerous faculty, students and parents have said, should be the recruitment of a more diverse student body. There were no blacks in the class of ’82, and there is only one black in the class of ’83. And, with tuition and fees approaching $4,000 annually, and scholarship aid available for only about 10 percent of the students (scholarships are funded only out of endowment revenues), the economic segregation is equally impressive. Even with scholarship aid, transportation problems between Oak Cliff and North Dallas will discourage many prospective students. The school administration is working on both problems. A school-sponsored bus or van has been discussed, and contributions to the school’s endowment fund allowed scholarship disbursements to grow by 21 percent last year to $206,000 for 78 students-13 of them black or Hispanic. But St. Mark’s has a long way to go; students, protesting its image as a “rich man’s school,” will name as a token poor-boy a young man whose father (or mother) is a mere lawyer or college professor.

Within the limits of wealthy, white male society, there is considerable variety among the students at St. Mark’s. Among the seniors, Jeff Miller is a champion rodeo rider; Lee Jamieson has climbed mountains from Alaska to Brazil and plans to work as a guide after he graduates from college; Roland Marks has spent his summers doing charity work in Central America; Rex Roten worked his way through high school by selling sno-cones during the summer in Duncanville (thanks to a $5,000 loan from his father, which enabled him to buy his stand). The class contains antidrug crusaders who claim a close friendship with H. Ross Perot, as well as smart-aleck liberals who, in a prearranged gesture of contempt for the graduation speech given to them by Gov. Bill Clements, cut loose with a group yawn five minutes into the governor’s oration (which, as it turned out, was largely a canned speech pulled from his files).

In fact, it could be said that St. Mark’s has a knack for producing interesting young men. The first graduate of Texas Country Day school was Jerry Cunningham, a tap dancer of some repute who still lives in Dallas. St. Mark’s is the school that gave the world Tommy Lee Jones (’65) and William Royce “Boz” Scaggs (!62). Steve Miller, of the band by the same name, left the school before graduation.

Still, notes a veteran member of the English faculty, “I think that these kids get a very narrow view of the world. I think they tend to think that the world is composed of people who are very much like themselves.”

Kevin Teal, the lone black among the rising class of seniors, came very close to getting into several fistfights during his early years in St. Mark’s, trying to let his classmates know he did not appreciate their remarks about cotton or their insinuations that they could not understand what he was saying. “They’ll test you, they’ll see how far they can go,” he says. Others among his classmates want to be friendly, he says, “but if you’re not a maid or butler they don’t know how to deal with you.” Some teachers at the school agree with his analysis. “It takes a very special kind of minority kid to make it here,” says a history teacher. By the time students enter their final two years at St. Mark’s, he adds, they have matured enough to understand that racism is bad or, at the very least, tacky.

Ethel Penzel, who has put three of her boys through St. Mark’s, says she appreciates the superior academic education her sons have received, but believes that other schools-notably the Jesuit school -do a better job of awakening their students to the moral and social issues with which men and women of good conscience should deal. “I think that these youngsters don’t have any idea of what’s happening in the world,” she says. “They don’t have any idea of social justice.. .they don’t know how some people live in this city. Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t care.”

She believes that Whatley helped alleviate the “hardness” of the school through his own dealings with the boys and through his emphasis on a liberal, wide-ranging education. It is, as Whatley’s friends say, a frail legacy. The board certainly did not remove Whatley because of his emphasis on warmth and compassion at the school – it wanted a better manager, not an inferior human-relations artist, and members obviously hope to find a new headmaster with all of Whatley’s strengths and none of his weaknesses. But many things in the lives of small boys and small schools are matters of nuance and degree. Mrs. Penzel worries that without Whatley the school could lose sight of abstractions, such as compassion or justice.

“That, to me is the tragedy of the school. These brilliant boys are.. .just on a feeder line on the way to corporate Dallas,” she says.

In a sense, that is the purpose for which St. Mark’s was founded, and no one can doubt that St. Mark’s will continue turning out bright, purposeful young leaders. But future leaders will come in two sexes and several colors. The challenge for St. Mark’s will be bridging the gap between serving the aristocracy (its traditional students) and creating the meritocracy (those who, academically and morally speaking, deserve to go there, whether they can afford the tuition or not).

“The education I’m getting is so muchbetter than what a lot of my friends aregetting,” says Kevin Teal. “It’s just incredible. Some of them are graduating, andthey can’t write. It almost makes you cry,thinking about it.”


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