25 years: Celebrating our School's Founding
In the past quarter of a century, we have seen Presbyterian School grow from 75 students to 540; from fewer than 50 families to more than 350 families; from having our oldest students as three-year-olds to our oldest students as thirteen-year-olds; from a faculty of fewer than 20 to a faculty of more than 90; from a Church investment of $100,000 to an independent operating budget approaching $10 million. There are many reasons to give thanks here in our 25th Anniversary year. Take a minute to see how far we have come…
The dream that is now Presbyterian School was first articulated in the mid-1980s by Dr. Jack Lancaster, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church from 1961 to 1990. After expanding the Church’s facilities to include a new Christian Education wing, Dr. Lancaster formed a School Study Committee in 1986. Mr. Eugene H. Vaughan, Jr. led the Committee which evolved into Presbyterian School’s first Board of Trustees.
“As a Committee, we became aware of the potential power of providing a true early childhood education in a Christian context,” said Mr. Vaughan. “The key questions became these: How early could we start in terms of the age of the child? How could we encourage parents to be uniquely involved? Whom would we hire to share this dream as a Founding Head of School?”
An intensive nationwide search led the Committee to Dr. Betty Baxter. A national expert on early childhood education, Dr. Baxter shared the principles upon which the School was to be built and believes this to be a key factor in Presbyterian School’s strong start. “I believed then and still believe in the development of the whole human being socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, spiritually,” said Dr. Baxter. “I believe parents are the most influential educators in their child’s life, and that parents, school and church must be partners and work together to maximize the child’s potential.”
Presbyterian School enthusiastically opened its doors to 75 new students ages 2 through Kindergarten on August 18, 1989, with a plan to add an additional grade each year thereafter through the fifth grade. On that first day of school, Dr. Baxter began one of many beloved traditions that continue to this day. She stood at the door and greeted each student, at his or her eye level, with a handshake and a smile.
In 1997, the school’s Board of Trustees approved planning for a Middle School, and construction on the Lancaster Center, named for the Church’s now Pastor Emeritus began in 1998. Then Head of School, Ellen Welsh, Board Chair, Carlton Wilde and Board President, Kim Sterling played key roles in realizing that objective. “Our goal was to create a schoolhome for middle school age students that would be strong and invigorating in terms of how it serves all of our children,” said Dr. Welsh. “We wanted to build on the concepts of personalization, parent participation, conversation and civility, and an evolving criteria of intelligence.”
In August 2000 the Middle School opened with 67 students in fifth and sixth grades, and in June 2003 the first class of eighth grade students graduated from Presbyterian School.
As the school continued to grow, the need for additional green space soon became apparent. In 2005, a 14-acre property located just south of the Texas Medical Center on Highway 288 was purchased in order to build the School’s Outdoor Education Campus (OEC). The School motto, “As children of God at Presbyterian School, we respect ourselves, each other and the environment,” served as a compelling vision for the design and concept of the OEC. “While our children can learn about the importance of conservation and environmental science in the classroom, not all learning can take place indoors. To learn about the great outdoors, students need to be outdoors,” said Head of School, Raymond E. Johnson. In Spring 2008 the OEC officially opened with a pavilion, outdoor education area, two regulation size athletic fields, eight lane track, cross country trail, outdoor chapel, nature garden areas and rolling hills to serve students in environmental learning, athletics, play and outdoor worship.
In 2009, Dr. Mark Carleton became the Headmaster and encouraged continued growth of the School and new vision and innovation for student learning. The student population, academic programs and athletic offerings expanded. New sports including swimming, wrestling and golf were added. Additional faculty were hired to better meet the needs of a growing school.
Both the main campus and the OEC became wireless facilities to support an increase in new technologies including iPads, laptops, digital projectors, Smart Boards and Apple TV. In 2010, the School began an iPad initiative in Prekindergarten and eighth grade which has now evolved into a 1:1 iPad program for all fourth-eighth grade students.
Other areas of the School including academic enrichment, fine arts, health & wellness and servant leadership became well-defined. Fine arts classes such as photography and sketching at the MFAH, and wellness electives such as Biomechanics and Worldviews were added to the core schedule for seventh and eighth grade students. Targeted and consistent servant leadership opportunities were established through Panther Patrol, student recycling and specific grade level projects.
Dr. Carleton shares, “Today, as we live Dr. Lancaster’s vision, we are a school that believes that every adult, from parents to teachers to administrators, influences each and every student’s success and that this success is made more tantalizing in a culture that is characterized by respect and dignity for all.” From this essential belief, the School’s faculty came together in May 2012 to formally articulate the School’s core values. The School’s core values rest upon the simple objective of Reflecting God’s Love and include Respect, Perseverance, Courage, Compassion, Integrity and Gratitude.
The School has always sought to kindle and nourish a love of learning in its students and to help them discover their talents and use their potential to the fullest. What began as an innovative concept in early childhood education has beautifully evolved into a strong institution that continues in its mission: Family, School and Church united in the education and support of each Child. The institution that Dr. Lancaster described in the School’s first brochure as a “pioneering effort” that he hoped could become “a model in the field in education” and “a strong influence for good in the city of Houston” has truly unfurled its wings.
Graduates of Presbyterian School are excelling in Houston’s finest high schools and America’s most prestigious colleges. More significantly, Presbyterian School students are good people and good citizens, interested in the world around them and eager to become leaders in it.