When the board of St. Marks, the blue-chip boys’ school on Preston Road near Royal Lane, met for the first time after the firing of headmaster John (Ted) Whatley, it was almost a replay of the board’s reaction to the firing of Whatley’s predecessor, Christopher Berrisford, 13 years earlier.
Berrisford, now headmaster of the Harvard School in Los Angeles, was thought to be too liberal. Trouble erupted when one of his young teachers tore a paper flag to shreds to demonstrate to his class the ephemeral nature of symbols. It was that teacher and Berrisford who proved to be ephemeral.
Whatley’s case is far less clear. Some say there was dissatisfaction with the lower school and with certain teachers who were retained for next year. Others maintain that Whatley was too slow to pick up on suggestions from trustees.
Where H. Ben Decherd had been a key player in the Berrisford leave-taking, his son, Robert, executive vice president of the Belo Corporation, which publishes The Dallas Morning News, is said to have been instrumental in Whatley’s departure. While Bob Rogers (president and chief executive officer of Texas Industries) served on the executive committee that dispatched Berrisford, his younger brother, Dick, a lawyer, spoke out in defense of the timing of Whatley’s sacking.
Some board members felt that with only six weeks to go in the school year, summer would have been more propitious for the move. Then possibly Whatley might have been persuaded, given a little coaxing, to resign and not force his own firing. Others felt that a year’s termination period was called for, although Whatley is receiving a year’s salary.
The main point of bitter contention, both now and 13 years ago, was that the 15-member executive committee took final action on firing the headmaster without consulting the entire 70-member board. In fact, there are those who believe that this is a decision to be made only by the board. The executive committee says that 70 people is too unwieldy a group to work with on so sensitive a matter.
This debate will die down, as it did before, and the peacemakers will be chosen to find a new headmaster.