Tuesday, September 26, 2023 Sep 26, 2023
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Class Acts

We analyze the pressures, the prices, and the payoffs at 14 schools. Which ones are springboards to great colleges? Plus: What parents say about the schools.

EVERY WINTER ON ONE COLD SATURDAY MORNING IN DALLAS, several hundred fourth-graders are torn away from their favorite cartoons for four hours of mundane academic testing. In the car on the way to the test, mom and Suzie review multiplication facts and spell out vocabulary words. Then mom tells Suzie to relax, do her very best, and remember that her entire life depends on the next four hours.

If you don’t test well, mom tells Suzie, you will not get into this top-rated school where you will be crammed full of brilliant ideas and be protected forever from drinking, drugs, sex, violence, and vacuity, All you have to do is score an 80th percentile or higher on this little test-and don’t forget a No. 2 pencil.

The admissions tests used by the most selective private schools are the Comprehensive Testing Program III (CTP III) for up to fifth grade, and the Independent School Entrance Exam USEE) for sixth through 12th grade. The tests are commonly called the ERBs after Educational Records Bureau, which provides them, although test administration procedures can vary from school to school. These tests are harder than others, such as the Stanford Achievement Test, and the scores are correlated to a national norm, a suburban norm, and an independent (private) school norm-the toughest.

You won’t find empty seats in Dallas private schools come September. Even folks in the sparkling suburbs and prep heaven, the Park Cities, are agonizing over changing demographics and overcrowding. Applications to all private schools are up-which raises the standards and makes schools more selective.

Parents put their child through the tests and sometimes even plunk down $1,000 deposits to hold a place at one school while they’re put on a waiting list at another. If a letter of acceptance comes, they walk away from that non-deductible deposit without a blink. Some families have paid an entire year’s tuition and walked when another, more selective school came knocking. Huge marital spats have erupted over the public-versus-private question.

Elissa Sommerfield knows how tough it’s getting-she helps families put their kids on the educational fast track by teaching verbal and math skills seminars in her Preston Hollow home office. She, like other tutors, is busier than ever.

“I’d scrub floors to send my children to private schools,” says the former SMU instructor. Her sons attended Greenhill and St. Mark’s, but she’s the first to say that a child can get an excellent education at a public school-any public school-if he or she is self-motivated. Still, Sommerfield believes that private school students are more academically driven.

“The private school students’ desire to do well academically comes from themselves,” she says. “Peer pressure is academic. Since you’re paying outright for the education, you value it more.”

The choice-between public and private, Greenhill or Lakehill, Hockaday or Cistercian-ultimately depends on what you want for your child. Here we examine a number of Dallas schools, public and private, which offer outstanding college preparatory work for a variety of abilities. In addition to SAT scores and other stats, we’ve got the inside information about what these schools are really like-the straight scoop you hear when the teachers’ heads are turned and the headmaster is in a conference. So get out your No, 2 pencils,

Episcopal: Swann’s Way

Since the Episcopal School of Dallas merged with the St. Michael School last year, ESD now stands neck-and-neck with Hockaday, St. Mark’s, Trinity, and Greenhill as the city’s largest cradle-to-college private schools. Both locations remain as separate campuses. The St. Michael campus (Colgate at Douglas}, which offered a top-notch K-6 education prior to the merger, will continue to educate children pre-K (age 3) through fourth grade. Grades five through 12 will feed to the north campus on Metre) Road at Midway. Many St. Michael parents resented the merger, but it was a brilliant move that came after almost half of St. Michael’s 1995-94 sixth grade class, some 19 children, didn’t place anywhere. Now, ESD will be guaranteed an influx of bright, motivated students (plus tuition and donations) from St, Michael, and St. Michael students now have guaranteed admis-sion to fifth grade. Unfortunately, the school is no longer as hospitable to families with modest incomes who once saw St. Michael as an affordable option.

Academically, ESD used to be seen as a back-up school for St. Mark’s-Cistercian-Hockaday rejectees. Not anymore. The merger will further narrow the available slots at this school and elevate selectivity. ESD has already hired faculty away from the other private schools and toughened the curriculum requirements for the class of 2000; it has a new, two-story, 26,000-square-foot science, math, and computer building with 12 classrooms, four labs, and an Internet web site. ESD is proud of its advisory system, where one teacher shepherds eight students for two years. The advisor and students eat lunch together every day so the teacher can check up on things-social life, tests, problems. Chapel attendance is mandator)’.

Father Stephen Swann started ESD in 1980 in a Galveston beach house. When the school moved to Dallas, Swann borrowed space at St. Michael in exchange for clergy work. Later ESD moved to what is now The Shelton School, and finally to its own red-brick campus on Midway Road just south of Royal Lane. Swann perpetuates the small-community feel by being accessible to his students-more like a dad than a stuffy headmaster. His office has a sliding glass patio door that’s usually open to anyone.

ADMISSION: ESD averaged eight applications for every available space last year. The admissions committee looks at the applicant and family-preference is given to siblings of current students. There is an emphasis on academics but emotional maturity, too-EQ as well as IQ. ESD wants students who are well-rounded; a failing grade is not fatal. Father Swann says kids can wipe the slate clean and start over each semester. CTP III and ISEE are used for admissions testing.

UNIFORMS: required

THE PAYOFF: Recent graduates have gone on to Brown, Dartmouth, Amherst, and Northwestern.

PARENTS SAY: A school of good vibes; teachers are involved and they really hold kids accountable for how they treat one another. Feelings are as important, or maybe more important, than straight A’s. Great middle- and upper-school fine arts, history, and English. Most parents worship Steve Swann, who doesn’t hestitate to act in loco parentis-he has plucked his lambs from parties where the punch was definitely spiked, and has yanked telephones and stereos from a student’s bedroom at home for lack of study.

Things to improve: The school is beefing up science and math, having just switched to the latest math rave, Everyday Math, or Chicago Math-which allegedly teaches kids to put more emphasis on problem solving. Music, speech, and drama need oomph; sports teams could use some stellar athletes; ESD does not have a football team yet, which may be a plus academically.

4100 Merrel Rd., Dallas, 75229, 358-4368.

Ursuline: Service with the Sisters

FOUNDED IN 1874 BY THE URSULINE SISTERS, THIS IS THE OLD-est girls1 high school in Dallas. The founding philosophy was to educate young women in the community regardless of means or ability to pay. The school serves 700 girls total in grades nine through 12. The school offers financial help based on need; 20 percent of the student body is on scholarship.

Ursuline’s facilities are catching up to the other private schools. A huge new gym will be complete this spring, and alumnae Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, recently gave the school $1 million to raise the level of technology. They are adding computers and planning to link classrooms through a fiber-optic network. All freshmen next year-the Class of 2000-will be required to have laptop computers.

Ursuline has an impressive sports program-cross country, soccer, swimming, a basketball team in state finals. Each incoming freshman is assigned a junior “big sister” to show her the ropes. For the first time this spring, Ursuline will offer ninth graders a straight-talking, four-day seminar on dependency dangers: Victims of drug abuse and recovering alcoholics will share their stories with students, parents, and faculty.

ADMISSION: The school tested 360 applicants this year for approximately 180 spots. Ursuline looks at the whole student-grades and teacher recommendations weigh in equally with test scores. Students must also write a personal statement. Ursuline’s motto is service: A community service commitment of 90 hours {minimum) is required for graduation. Ursuline uses the ISEE.

UNIFORMS: required

THE PAYOFF: American University, Notre Dame, Loyola, and Stanford

PARENTS SAY: Because Ursuline is less expensive than Hockaday or other large private schools (see chart, page 67), more families are applying, thus increasing selectivity. Parents like that-as long as their daugh -ter gets in. Not a lot of cliques, surprising for an all-girls school. Strong sense of community and spirit. Academically challenging, and tough for those who are not organized or forget homework. Word is that Ursuline girls party harder, drink, and make out more than typical private school girls-but then, one parent says Catholics always party better than anyone else. Other complaints: The administration is a bit disorganized and could communicate better with parents. Some resent the way homosexuality is presented in theology class as an alternative lifestyle, instead of a sin, though the school does not condone it.

4900 Walnut Hill In., Dallas, 75229, H34&1.

Hockaday: What ’Daisies Know

HOCKADAY HOLDS AN INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION AS ONE OF the nation’s finest college prep schools, educating girls from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Early on, Hocka-daisies, as they are called, learn to deal with homework and rigorous athletics. This is a traditional education, no open classrooms, and homework must be completed even if your dog ate it. Sports are big and Hockaday wins state titles repeatedly. Still, academics prevail; teachers keep in close contact with parents about progress. Upper-school science and computer facilities put some colleges to shame-e-mail accounts for all the girls, a web site, and ISDN lines.

Though they drag heavy book bags and moan about homework, most Hockadaisies have the drive to succeed-there are many future Type-A personalities within a diverse student body. Three basic types: the “nerds” who live to study; the socials who study, play sports, and party; and a nebulous few barely banging on academically, though they may bave other talents. School spirit is enormous-every girl is either a member of the green or white spirit teams, remaining so for life. Assignments are arbitrary unless the girl’s mother attended Hockaday; if so, the daughter joins mom’s old team.

Hockaday has educated some of the city’s wealthiest young women, from Perots to Crows. Political consciousness is fairly high; Hockaday bas educated Penny Tower Cook, daughter of the late Senator John Tower; Frances “Sissy” Farenthold; Annette Strauss’ daughters and now her granddaughters. As the election approached in November 1994, the twin daughters of George W. and Laura Bush and the daughter of Democratic senatorial candidate Richard Fisher all had their partisans.

ADMISSION: Competitive and quite selective, depending on the year. There are 36 openings in each pre-K class. By the fifth grade, class size expands from about 50 to 66. A few more girls are admitted each year in seventh and ninth grades. A family interview is required pre-K through fourth grade; a student interview for fifth through 12th grade. Accepts boarders, many of them international students, beginning in middle school. Legacy counts and can help a girl get in. Testing is through the ERBs-CTP in and ISEE.

UNIFORMS: required

THE PAYOFF: MIT, Vassar, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Duke

PARENTS SAY: Lots of money means some Hockasnobs, but indulgence factor depends on the year. Very cliquey during middle school. Eating disorders occur at Hockaday, though the school tries to counter this with innovative classes on healthy eating and body image. An extremely responsive, progressive administration under headmistress Liza Lee, who has elevated curriculum standards. Diversity is proclaimed but only 10 percent of the student body is on scholarship. Lower school needs to beet up math and science, A model sex education program in fifth grade turns some parents oft due to its honesty. Some dads think Hockaday faculty members engage in too much male-bashing; others believe their daughters study and participate more without male diversion. Upper school is tough on drugs and drinking; violators face expulsion. -E.D. Stem

11600 Welch Rd., Dallas, 75229-2999, 363-6311

Bishop Lynch: Simplicity and Diversity

Bishop Lynch is a four-year co-ed Catholic high school offering students honors, regular, or slower-paced courses or a combination thereof; placement will not affect admissions. Lynch will accept children with slight learning differences and offer help in the form of summer programs and academic labs. A child with inappropriate behavior or difficulty turning in homework would not be a good match at Lynch-in other words, no brats who won’t do their work.

Parents with children at the larger private schools might be surprised at Lynch’s simplicity-not a lot of gleaming science labs here, no row after row of Macs tuned in to web sites. But parents say the school gets a lot done with slimmer resources and for a dramatically lower tuition.

This is a Catholic school that’s extremely Catholic. Students take lots of theology courses. Community service is also emphasized; students serve food at downtown stewpots and tutor in rough neighborhoods. The school is concerned with developing morals and cultivating high self-esteem. At Bishop Lynch there is a friendly mingling of very wealthy children with very poor-black, white, Hispanic. Diversity overfloweth.

ADMISSION: Administrators say they are looking for motivated, cooperative, respectful students of high integrity, whether that child has a 78 or a 98 score in English. Interviews are required. The school uses the Explorer ACT for ninth grade only, otherwise transcripts are used for 10th through 12th grade.

UNIFORM: required

THE PAYOFF: West Point, Yale, Marquette, and the University of Virginia

PARENTS SAY: The drama department and athletics are the strongest points of the school-the girl’s varsity basketball team has won state the last seven years in a row. Sister Cecelia, who teaches physics, is fabulous. School spirit gushes-you can feel it at all the games. Teachers and administrators are very committed to the students and families. Some say the teachers at Lynch are not as sharp as those at the larger preparatory schools. Take a kid out of St. Mark’s, put him at Bishop Lynch High School, and the child will think he’s on a different planet; students arc far less competitive, less self-conscious here. Fewer cliques than you’ll find at other large schools.

Things to improve: Some courses are soft, except in honors; biology and history are a tad weak. Not every student is university moti-vated; some choose community college, sometimes because they can’t afford college. Overall, parents say Bishop Lynch needs to toot its horn more-it’s a great private school bargain. A good fit for the academically challenged, but bright children learn a lot here, too, and some have sailed off to prestigious colleges and universities.

9750 Ferguson Rd., Dallas, 75228, 324-3607.

Cistercian: Demanding the Best

CISTERCIAN, WHICH OPENED IN 1962 WITH 50 BOYS, OFFERS A classical education to bright lads from fifth through 12th grade. On its rambling, wooded campus in Irving, future nuclear scientists, neurosurgeons, and computer engineers are guided by 10 Hungarian Cistercian monks and 20 lay teachers through their formative years. The curriculum is demanding and decidedly college prep. Each class is assigned a form master who follows them from the moment they enter the school until they pack for a prestigious college. He will get to know the students better than their own parents know them.

Cistercian s curriculum is an eight-year honors program; to graduate, a student must pass each course and sport no lower than a C average-all this and required community service, too. In upper school, the four core-curriculum senior courses are taken through nearby North Lake Community College (taught by college faculty), courses so intense that many Cistercian grads have already completed some college requirements with their high school diploma. One parent said this saved her $32,000 in college tuition!

ADMISSION: Among the toughest in town. Cistercian wants the brightest boys. Admissions claims not every student on campus is off the academic charts, but the monks look for boys who are willing to do the work and will often accept bright boys who are slightly lazy; the form masters have many ways to light a fire under them. A personal interview is required for admissions. Cistercian administers its own testing.

UNIFORM: required

THE PAYOFF: U.S. Naval Academy, Stanford, Princeton, Emory, Columbia, and Harvard

PARENTS SAY: Junior year is the hardest. The school is a caring environment-as long as the child is working. It’s not uncommon for form masters to call at night to see how homework’s going and make sure little Joey didn’t forget his Latin text. Sports become more competitive in high school-this year a Cistercian boy won the Davy O’Brien Award.

Cistercian students are expected to devote their lives to academics, so reading is far more important than socializing. Seniors do take a class on marriage and family as part of their religion curriculum during the second half of their senior year. The parent’s club puts on chaperoned co-ed parties after even,’ football game, and they are well-attended-not as many boys hitting the hotel parties.

Maybe Cistercian could use a little more EQ, but then, parents say, it would not be Cistercian. Parents who want competitive sports or more social contact for their children will switch schools.

One Cistercian Rd., Irving, 75039-4599, 438-4956.

TAG Magnet: Crown Jewel of the DISD

WITH 150 STUDENTS, TAG IS AS CLOSE AS YOU CAN GET TO obtaining the rich, individualized curriculum of a private school in the public sector. Twenty students in a class means little room to hide, snooze, or lose track. Children can accelerate rapidly. If a certain course-say, Chinese-is not available within the school district, the student can take it at SMU. TAG students stockpile those AP courses and place out of many college classes.

ADMISSION: Children across the district compete for the TAG spaces with test scores, a portfolio of work, essays, teacher recommendations, and interviews.


THE PAYOFF: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT

PARENTS SAY: They love it and will fight fiercely to keep this program- the three-day academic retreat during first semester, and the TAG Interim Term second semester that allows a student to spend five days in a special enrichment activity of his or her choosing with faculty approval. Some students have done projects at Yellowstone National Park. Where else can you get this low student-teacher ratio just for being a taxpayer? TAG has even taken some St. Mark’s refugees into its fold-bright kids who just weren’t happy as Lions. Complaints: The school is small, classes limited, and you go to school with the same people year after year. Can get kind of stifling, but then these are pretty interesting characters. Some miss sports, but kids participate in YMCA sports, broom ball, or other programs. Parents are angered and baffled by the recent protests. It’s easy to forget this TAG school is so racially balanced you’d think a political consultant had staged it for a commercial. One parent said Dallas should be proud that last year’s 20 graduates were offered a total of $4.5 million in financial aid to some of the nation’s top colleges. “Maybe some of them will come home and get a seat or two on the school board,” he added.

1201 E. 8th St., Dallas, 75203, 944-2220.

Highland Park: Holding Its Own?

THIS IS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT THAT HAS PRODUCED A GOVERNOR of Texas, astronauts, Nobel prize winners, Heisman Trophy holders, and a number of the top professionals living in the city. Highland Park and University Park are proud of their excellent school system, and HPHS is the community’s shining star. Money Magazine named HPHS one of the nation’s “Top 12 Schools.” It is the reason why many people will pay $1 million for a home on a 50-by- 150-foot lot and a slew of property taxes as well. Of last year’s 350-plus graduating class, only 12 went to two-year colleges. The rest attended four-year colleges in Texas and out-of-state. Children who love sports thrive at HPHS and almost half the student body is on an athletic team.

Clearly any child can be well-educated at HPHS. So why would anyone living in the Park Cities send their child to private school?

Some like the protection of a private school; others like the smaller environment. It is easier to get lost in a freshman class of almost 400. Some parents worry that despite the excellent teachers and courses, HPHS still takes private school rejectees with behavior problems and other undesirable traits.

Still, other parents are beginning to wonder if their child isn’t better off at HPHS {or Piano) when college application time rolls around. Since Stanford and Princeton comb the country looking for the top-achieving students at places like St. Mark’s and Cistercian, overlooking the nice B students at those schools, why not leave the kid at HPHS where he’ll be No. lor even No. 10,andmore likely to get into Harvard?

ADMISSION: Open to students who live within school boundaries.


THE PAYOFF: Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Brown

PARENTS SAY: Drinking and social pressures are big problems in Highland Park. Last year, kids hired a stripper to perform at an after-dance hotel party-kids as young as 14 were in attendance, Some parents are in lah-lah land when it comes to knowing what Junior is really doing. Stories circulate of HPHS football players beating up on private school kids. One boy from a prominent family, the gossips say, has several assault charges pending but daddy hired a big-name attorney to bail him out. Highland Park is also getting crowded and showing signs of budget constraints. Under the state’s “Robin Hood” school finance plan, the district is maxed out on how much it can spend. Tennis courts need repair, schools run out of supplies like copy paper, and the high school will soon initiate an open-campus system; some parents believe this was done to relieve crowding, though the school says otherwise. HPHS also recently changed class ranking to put students in a better light-some colleges reportedly don’t like the new system. 4220 Emerson Ave., Dallas, 75205, 523-1700.

Jesuit Sticking Together

A large Catholic boys’ high school run by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), Jesuit has probably the most demanding community service requirement in the city: 100 hours during senior year. The school has large scholarship reserves and seeks out recipients, no matter how rough their edges. This school has had Roger Staubach’s children side by side with “at risk” boys from Far South Dallas. Highly structured, Jesuit requires four years of theology; boys attend chapel every Friday. Competitive sports are big-time at Jesuit-11 are offered, including football and wrestling.

The Jesuits proclaim a commitment to developing a child’s sense of justice, and this is more than just brochure copy; parents say the boys develop a camaraderie and genuine caring for each other. Competition is gentlemanly and truly Christian. For example, one of the highest awards at Jesuit is the “Man For Others” Award. The Peer Assistance Leadership (PAL) program teams an older student with a freshman who may have ADD or other learning problems-the PAL helps him get through the year.

There’s an unbending honor code and no locks on lockers-anyone caught stealing or cheating is expelled, A few years ago, some ornery freshmen were copying dollar bills and putting them through the bill changer in the lunchroom. They were gone before you could say credo quia absurdum est.

ADMISSION: Last year, Jesuit tested 375 children for 230 spots. An interview is required and testing (ISEE) counts, but Jesuit’s decision is not based on a sharp cutoff point-legacy helps as does the child’s character, talents, and school records. Jesuit is opening 125 spaces over the next several years, Thirty extra seats will be filled in next year’s freshman class.

UNIFORM: required

THE PAYOFF: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford

PARENTS SAY: Dedicated staff, strong academic skills, and teachers who care if kids do well. Once accepted at Jesuit, the faculty gets the boy through-even the disadvantaged. School spirit is intense and centers on the football games. Not cliquish, and they don’t try to convert non-Catholics, who abound here. Also abounding; a large faction of social animals who are prepping for good times in the frats. There’s also a pugnacious spirit that comes from the male bonding. Jesuit boys stick together and if that means a fist on someone’s nose for slamming a buddy, so be it. Overall, parents say the school does a good job of keeping bright, testosterone-laden guys in line.

12345 Inwood Rd., Dallas, 75244, 387-8700.

Lakehill: Laid-Back in Lakewood

LAKEHILL WAS FOUNDED 25 YEARS AGO BY A GROUP OF PARENTS and the same educators who put together the Greenhill School. A small, co-ed, college prep school for the average student, Lakehill’s mission is to approach each student with understanding and help them achieve academic success. It’s a cozy Walden tucked in a Lakewood neighborhood.

Teachers know all the students-250 altogether from kindergarten through 12th grade-and the teachers nurture, sending home weekly reports on children’s work and behavior at almost all levels. The small classes are virtually 50/50 co-ed until upper school, when many parent send the boys to other schools. Facilities are a sharp contrast to the larger privates. The school is located in an old church with one sports field, a small library, and a brand-new gym.

The students are generally college-bound and all are required to take the SAT. Sports begins in the fifth grade-students do not have to try out and anyone can play, which is a plus for non-athletes.

Lakehill’s drama department and speech workshop are top-notch. The school’s award-winning community service program is a graduation requirement. A food pantry is located on campus and students host annual events for senior citizens such as holiday luncheons and picnics. Every class adopts a grandparent, Instead of science fairs, Lakehill stages “Invention Conventions.” Many field trips: In sixth grade, for example, while studying Texas history, the whole class of 18

looking for those who score the highest on the test.


THE PAYOFF: SMU, Stanford, Rice, Rhode Island School of Design, and Trinity

PARENTS SAY: Lakehill’s a hidden jewel. Although its facilities are dwarfed by the other privates, one of Lakehill’s best points is its economic diversity: Your child won’t whine that everyone’s going to Europe for spring break. Too many funky styles-kids push the dress code to the hilt-and some parents want to see a uniform requirement. Academics are okay, teachers are responsive-but one mom said her fourth grader at St. Michael had more homework than her eighth grader at Lakehill. Some kids get tired of the smallness and opt to find a larger school, Others wish they could move Lakehill near Preston or the Tollway; they love it, but the drive from North Dallas or the Park Cities is grueling.

2720 Hillside Dr., Dallas, 75214, 826-2931.

Bishop Dunne: A Helping Hand

Bishop Dunne is a co-ed Catholic high school (ninth through 12th grade) located on 30 wooded acres in Oak Clift. Like Bishop Lynch, Bishop Dunne has a reputation for catering to students with a wide range of academic abilities. Ninety percent of Dunne’s graduates go off to four-yen colleges; last year’s grads earned $1.1 million in scholarships. The school works as an advocate lor the students socially, academically, and financially. It is building a huge, high-tech computer center and lab with 31 of die latest, highest-gig computers available. Five computers will be installed in every classroom. Aside from the computers, Dunne’s campus looks like a high school from the 1 %0s when the gym was more important than die science building.

The school hosts an annual teacher training seminar called Geotech, sponsored by National Geographic and IBM. Next year’s guest speaker will be Jane Goodall. The athletic program is top-notch: Dunne is the only Catholic school in Texas to be awarded the Perry Fite Award for best balance of academics and athletics. State championships include boy’s track (12 years), girl’s track (seven years), football (three years), and girl’s softball (one year).

ADMISSION: Interview with parents and child required; Dunne uses the High School Placement Test.

UNIFORMS: required

THE PAYOFF: Catholic University, UT-Austin Plan II. and UT-Arlington

PARENTS SAY: Hie school is a godsend to the community and the city, offering financial aid where it is sorely needed. What Dunne lacks in facilities it makes up for with a dedicated staff and high academic standards. Successfully mixes students of diverse backgrounds and intellectual abilities. Not a sense of coddling or spoiled brats here: The campus was recently re-painted and freshly landscaped by the students themselves over several weekends! More than one parent tells of faculty members picking up a child from a troubled home, then finding them a family to stay with for the night. Lots of needy but bright kids here. If you live in North Dallas, the commute could get tiresome, but many have done it and loved the results. -E.D. Stein 3900RangedDr., Dallas,75224, 339-6561.

Trinity Christian: Learning With the Lord

OFFERING A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY AND CURRICULUM FOR students from kindergarten through 12th grade, TCA promises academic stimulation and an exposure to fine arts, athletics, and student government within the parameters of a Christian education. Each TCA student must perform eight hours of community sendee per year (ninth-12th grade) and earn two Bible study credits. TCA fills a gap to educate an average student within a Christian framework. The athletic teams manage to win games while stressing Christian sportsmanship. There’s a strong moral majority element here. Two theories of evolution-scientific and religious-are taught, and the school handbook says any girl who has an abortion will be expelled. No dances are permitted on the school campus, although students are allowed to attend Cotillion and Junior Assembly dance classes. Textbooks are screened for undesirable language and examples. For example, kids don’t read The Catcher in the Rye here. (Headmaster Dr. Dan Russ says Salinger is a second-rate writer anyhow; he puts the emphasis on the classics-Plato, Jane Austen.) The mothers hold monthly prayer groups to pray for students and teachers.

TCA has always had easier entrance requirements than Hockaday, St. Marks, or the other large schools. Academics are undergoing an identity crisis at TCA, admits trustee Dennis S. Ippolito, a professor of political science at SMU who has two children at TCA and loves it. Under the esteemed Russ, formerly with the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, the school is expanding the high school curriculum and getting tougher. Some parents want tougher academics in the middle school as well. The board is now seeking an “intelligent balance” to keep everyone happy and fulfill the school’s mission. A new high school building is under construction.

ADMISSION: Family interview, K-6; child interview, 7-12. TCA uses the Stanford Achievement tests-most children accepted have the highest scores, although they do accept children with lower test scores. One mom said her interview focused more on her religious re-birth experience than it did on her son or his work.

UNIFORM: required

THE PAYOFF: Wheaton, Baylor, and Princeton

PARENTS SAY: Known unofficially as the “Bible thumpers” private school-parents either love it or leave it. Some say the place is a hotbed of hypocrisy: Teachers teach Christian values in one class -and close their eyes to what is actually practiced in another. A number of parents believe that TCA is too soft. One seventh grader who left TCA last year spent the summer catching up on math and verbal skills so he could attend another local private school. Several parents dislike middle school principal Robert Marvin; some almost started a petition last year to fire him. Others love TCA’s wholesome atmosphere and say it produces happy students with active social lives, manners, and values. Money flows at TCA, but not the elitism here you find at other private schools. One parent summed it up: “You’ll find the biggest do-gooders in the world at TCA, but you’ll also find some of the nicest people in Texas.” 17001 Addison Rd., Addison, 75248, 931-8325.

Hillcrest: Comeback Kids

HILLCREST, NOW MORE THAN 50 YEARS OLD, IS ENJOYING A comeback as one of the city’s best high schools. Hillcrest offers excellent Advanced Placement/honors classes; Latin, French, and Spanish. Hillcrest routinely sends kids to excellent colleges and the Ivies. Its journalism program has churned out hundreds of successful grads, and the school newspaper is a legacy. Teachers are involved in more than just teaching-some spend hours with extracurricular activities. Nine sports are offered, and Hillcrest’s strong sports program helps bind kids from different backgrounds. Hillcrest also has one of the strongest parent support systems in the city.

Like any metropolitan high school. Hillcrest has its problems and its metal detectors. Violence is a concern to some, but parents say that when they hear about something bad happening at a Dallas public high school, they just don’t think of Hillcrest. The student body is diverse and ethnically balanced between Anglo, Hispanic, and black students. Next year’s ninth graders can select a distinguished graduation requirement of 26 credits, two more than the state-required 24. Students can parallel college prep requirements at private schools with, for example, four years of math and science and community service.

ADMISSION: A public school, so students must live within school boundaries.


THE PAYOFF: Emerson, Randolph Macon, Vanderbilt, and SMU

PARENTS SAY: The biggest myth about Dallas’ public schools is that they are a dumping ground for everyone’s rejectees. Hillcrest turns out good, solid neighborhood kids-honors programs are equivalent to private school courses. Yeah, there are kids at Hillcrest with problems so bad it’s a miracle they can even get to school-but then there are really bright kids, too. Parent involvement is a key to a successful public school education, and Hillcrest’s got it. Could improve teacher quality and their level of professionalism, but all public schools have a tough time attracting great teachers. Parents learn to play seek and find with the better educators,

9924 Hillcrest Rd., Dallas, 75230, 987-8412.

Greenhill: Question Everything

GREENHILL WAS DALLAS’ FIRST CO-EDUCATIONAL, NON-DENOM-inational private school. The school opened in 1950 and blossomed during the ’60s and 70s, when open classrooms were the educational rage. Also big during those years was individualism-finding yourself, doing your own thing. So Greenhill stressed individuality and downplayed grades, emphasized learning retention and thinking for yourself. Educational consultant Elissa Sommerfield says that Greenhill does a great job of teaching children to learn in-depth without rote memorization.

Like ESD, Greenhill used to be thought of as the place for kiddos who couldn’t cut it at the other traditional schools-Cistercian, Hockaday, St. Mark’s. However, the growing pool of private school-hungry students has elevated the standards. Many parents with children at various private schools say Greenhill has even risen a cut or two above the older schools that have been sitting on their well-endowed laurels. Along with sending numerous grads off to Stanford and the Ivies, the school has produced three Presidential Scholars.

Still, Greenhill likes individuality in its students-the child who blows you away in the school play, the budding poet who wears black all the time to signify life’s suffering. These same kids might also be captain of the football team-about three-quarters of the upper school students play at least one sport. A recent $7.2 million capital campaign brought an updated science building, a renovated fine arts building, and a new administration building to house those who run the show, including Greenhill’s third headmaster, Peter Briggs.

Briggs has an Eastern prep-school appeal, perhaps because he came to Dallas in 1992 from Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut. His mission, say parents, is to erase Dallas’ impression that Grcenhill is a school for bright but far-out, over-indulged children of the wealthy. After all, this school doles out $1.2 million in financial aid yearly and pledged diversity long before it was politically correct. But the school is inching a bit towards the center on the open-classroom concept. The brand new middle school has that open feeling, but the classrooms are closed. In a sense, Briggs is putting a navy-blue blazer on Greenhill and saying, “mainstream.”

ADMISSION: Getting tougher. Greenhill looks for students who are motivated to learn, do homework, participate in school activities, and question everything. In 1995,69 students applied for ninth grade-36 were invited to attend; 22 accepted. Greenhill uses CTP III and the ISEE tests.


THE PAYOFF: Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, University of Chicago, Cal Tech, and Georgetown

PARENTS SAY: Strong faculty departments across the board, an exceptional fine arts department and drama department, and the best high school literature department in the city, except they won’t teach Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which is deemed too anti-Semitic. The school strives to make every child feel positive, but social pressures are strong here (one popular seventh-grader got 21 bar-mitzvah invitations in one year). So is materialism: The Land Rover is rapidly replacing the BMW as the favorite 16th birthday car; conservative parents give their kids an old Mercedes. Weak on school spirit. Kids need more homework to keep them off the phone and out of the malls. There’s a perception that anything goes at Greenhill in the name of creativity-green hair, triple-pierced ears, whatever. Some parents also think the “parent complaint pipeline” of demanding mothers went too far under former headmaster Phil Foote. Too often, they say, meetings turned into unproductive gripe sessions. 14255 Midway Rd., Dallas, 75244-3698, 661-1211.

By the Numbers: Comparing Dallas Prep Schools

You’re paying $12,000 a year for a private school: Are you getting your money’s worth? How experienced are the teachers and what’s the student-teacher ratio?

You can’t judge a school or what children learn by SAT scores alone-but most colleges have until recently. The SAT is controversial; some educators scream gender/race bias. Savvy students cram prep courses and take the SAT three times, using their highest score. So what’s a college to do? Some schools-Bowdoin, Middlebury, Union, and others-are leaving the SAT optional. When a school boasts of its high SAT scores, ask if they are reporting highest scores only. The future may see colleges relying more on class grades than on this grueling three-hour test.