St. Mark's traces its origins to the Terrill School for Boys, which was founded by Menter B. Terrill in 1906. The six original teachers included Terrill, who had been valedictorian at Yale, as well as his wife, Ada (one of the first female graduate students at Yale), and his father, James, a former college president. Terrill's school was explicitly intended to rival east coast prep schools. Terrill quickly recruited the sons of some of Dallas's most affluent citizens and also boarding students from throughout the southwest. By 1915, Terrill School sent 14 of its 33 graduates to Ivy League colleges.
As headmaster, Terrill encouraged Miss Ela Hockaday to open a girls' school in Dallas in 1913. Schools descended from Terrill have had some affiliation with the Hockaday School for over a century, with shared social events, artistic performances, and some classes.
During the decade of the 1910s, Terrill began to recruit enough athletes (including boarders in a postgraduate year) to successfully compete against much larger high schools as well as teams of college freshmen from Rice, SMU, and TCU. The football team’s record during that decade was 67 wins, 2 ties, and one loss (in 1915 to the freshman team from the University of Texas at Austin). Five games between 1912 and 1918 ended with Terrill's football team shutting out their opponents while scoring over 100 points. These undefeated seasons continued through the 1920s, with the teams often being led by well-known coaches. For example, one head coach of that era, Eugene Neely, had starred in football at Dartmouth, despite having lost an arm in a hunting accident at age 14. Another coach, Monroe Sweeney, left Terrill for Major League Baseball, where he umpired 412 games. Another, Pete Cawthon, left Terrill to coach at Austin College, bringing with him 7 of his Terrill players; Cawthon went on to become head football coach for Texas Tech and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National Football League as well as the athletic director for the University of Alabama. In 1930, the football team was undefeated and unscored upon, and the basketball team won a prep school national championship.
While its football team was rarely tested, Terrill did face academic competition from Texas Country Day School, which was founded in 1933 with 10 boys and four teachers. Within two years of its creation, Texas Country Day was advertising that its faculty included "Rhodes Scholar and Harvard, Dartmouth, and Amherst men."
In the context of the Great Depression, World War II, no endowment, and a small student body, Terrill School failed by 1946. Terrill re-emerged as the Episcopal-associated Cathedral School for Boys in 1946.
Within four years of Terrill's demise, several local business leaders tried again to create an elite Dallas institution by merging Texas Country Day (1933–1950) and the Cathedral School (1946–1950) effective in September 1950.
St. Mark's is the result of this merger, and it was immediately and robustly supported by some of Dallas's most successful businessmen of the post-World War II era. Beginning in the 1950s, for example, two of the founders of Texas Instruments donated a total of nearly $50 million, helping to create the solid endowment and modern campus. By the 1960s, Time' magazine called St. Mark's the "best equipped day school in the country."
The school today
In contrast to the Terrill School, which was created and spearheaded by its eponymous founder (and then failed after he died), St. Mark's has been driven by donors, most of whom have actively served on its board of trustees. As D Magazine once asserted, "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."
The early emphasis on science facilities was not random. As a former St. Mark's headmaster once said: "St. Mark's is a Sputnik school pragmatically established by industrialists who were interested in turning out scientists." The science facilities have contributed to the career development of a number of future scientists, including Alan Stern, who traces his current role as principal investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto to his early participation in the St. Mark's planetarium, observatory, and astronomy club.
Much of the McDermott-Green Science Center was replaced in January 2019 by the Winn Science Center. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern, the Winn Center includes a new planetarium and greenhouse, classrooms, and labs that focus on DNA science, engineering, biotechnology, and robotics. The new facilities also expand an ongoing project with the University of Texas at Austin which allows students to have direct internet access to observatories in Alpine, Texas and rural Peru. The science center was spearheaded by a $10 million gift from Steven Winn ‘64 and completed through $40 million in gifts from 57 other families.
The expansion of interests outside of science is reflected in the names of the buildings that are neatly scattered on its 42-acre North Dallas campus. For example, funding for Centennial Hall was spearheaded by a $10 million donation from the family of Harlan Crow, while Kenneth A. Hersh ‘81 largely funded the Robert K. Hoffman ‘65 Center.
Other major donors have included Ralph Rogers, who donated the natatorium, the family of Lamar Hunt, which donated a football stadium, the Roosevelt family, which contributed a carillon and a Letourneau pipe organ, and Tom Hicks, who funded for a new gymnasium. The Lower School has its own library, while the main library, named after Ida and Cecil H. Green, is heavily computerized but also features 56,000 volumes.
In October of 2019, an EF-3 tornado damaged multiple buildings on campus, though classes quickly resumed, and the buildings repaired or rebuilt. The tornado also uprooted and damaged more than 230 trees on the campus and destroyed many of the houses in the neighborhood surrounding the school.
St. Mark's was rated in 2016 as having one of the ten most beautiful high school campuses in the state.
As of 2021, the school's 904 students are spread across first through twelfth grade, with 412 in the Upper School, 342 in the Middle School, and 152 in the Lower School. Average class size is 16, and the overall student/faculty ratio is 8:1. Of the 127 full-time faculty members, 97 have advanced degrees, including 11 with doctorates. As of 2021, 30% of the teachers had worked at the school for at least twenty years. There are 22 fully endowed faculty positions, including 16 Master Teaching chairs. Male: female ratio among teachers is 50:50.
19% of applicants were accepted to St. Mark's in 2020. Of those accepted, 92% enrolled at St. Mark's. 98% of St. Mark's students continued into the next grade at St. Mark's in 2018 (i.e., the school had a 98% retention rate).
For the 4th consecutive year, the 2019-20 Annual Fund yielded over $4 million. For the 12th consecutive year, over half of the school's alumni donated to this annual fund, as did about 90% of the current parents. Total gift receipts in 2019-20 were $9.3 million. As of 2020, the school's endowment was $140 million. This translates into an endowment of over $117,000 per student. 17% of students received financial aid for the 2018–19 school year, with an overall outlay for financial aid of $2.8 million. Average tuition (inclusive of books and fees) is $30,622.
While the first African-American student did not enter St. Mark's until 1965, 47% of the school's 877 boys are now students of color, a group that includes boys who identify as African American, Asian American, and Hispanic.
Graduation requirements include participation in the freshman-year 10-day Pecos camping trip and 4 years of physical education (and/or participation on sports teams). All students must perform 4 years of community service (15+ hours/year). Students must also take the equivalent 18 full-year courses during Upper School, including 4 years of English and 3 years each of lab science, social studies, mathematics, and a foreign language, as well as one year of a fine art. In addition, all students must satisfactorily complete a Senior Exhibition, in which each boy creates a project that demonstrates a special talent, skill, or interest to the faculty and the rest of the student body.
Between 2015 and 2019, 10 or more alumni matriculated at the following colleges: Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, NYU, Princeton, SMU, Stanford, Texas A&M, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas (Austin), University of Texas (Dallas), and Vanderbilt. From the class of 2020, 4 or more students matriculated at the following colleges: Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, MIT, SMU, University of Texas (Austin), and Yale.
SM academics can be summarized through a variety of indicators.
For the 90 boys in the class of 2019, the median SAT was 1520 (780 Math; 740 Reading and Writing).
SM students took 519 AP tests from among the 19 AP courses offered in 2017–18. 83% of these AP Tests earned a 4 or 5.
32 SM students in the class of 2021 were named Semi-Finalists by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which indicates that 1/3 of the seniors scored in the top 1% on the junior year PSAT/NMSQT. 25 other members of the class of 2021 earned Commended status, which placed them in the top 2%. Recent graduating classes have scored similarly well: Class of 2020 (26 Semi-Finalists, 29 Commended) and Class of 2019 (31 Semi Finalists, 28 Commended).
The 4-student Upper School Quiz Bowl team won the National Academic Quiz Tournaments’ National Championship for charter and private schools in both 2017 and 2021. In the 2021 tournament, two other SM teams also finished in the top 20 in the country. The 2016 Upper School team was ranked 2nd nationally among private schools, while both the Upper School and the Middle School quiz bowl teams won Texas state championships in 2017. Earlier, the middle school team also finished 2nd nationally at the 2014 National Academic Quiz Tournaments.
A member of the class of 2019 won a Jeopardy! Teen Tournament episode.
The SM 4th grade class of 2020-21 finished 1st nationally in the most competitive division of the WordMasters Challenge; earlier classes had also finished 1st in 2015-2018. About 125,000 4th graders annually take the Challenge, which tests vocabulary, analogies, and word usage.
In 2003 and 2019, respectively, an SM middle schooler won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In the more recent competition, a 7th grader tied for first after having also won the 2018 national spelling bee for students of South Asian descent and after having placed in the top 40 in the Scripps competition in both 2017 and 2018.
Most external recognition of faculty is through the success of their students. Some teachers are, however, specifically recognized. In 2021, Ray Westbrook, a SM teacher since 2001, was named the National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. In 2020, Westbrook had won one of the four annual Pioneer Awards from the National Scholastic Press Association. In 2019, John Mead won the Evolution Education Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers, a recognition given to one K-12 teacher every other year from around the country. Mead had been recognized as Texas's best biology teacher in 2018. A SM math teacher, Robin Lynn Macy went on to help form the Dixie Chicks. Some SM coaches were most externally recognized prior to SM. For example, Daniel Nevot was a highly successful fencing coach for 25 years, but he had earlier won the Legion d'Honneur for his efforts as one of the Free French during World War II. Much earlier, the school recruited the 1938 Heisman Trophy winner, Davey O'Brien, to be its three-days-a-week football coach; 61 of 65 high school boys tried out for spring football that year.
For the past three years (2019-2021), one national rating service has concluded that St. Mark's is the country’s best K-12 private school and the country’s best boys school. That same organization has also asserted that SM is the state’s best private school as well as the state's best high school (public or private) for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). St. Mark's, itself, has shrugged off such rankings, underlining that no school is the best fit for all children and, more pragmatically, that there is no way to meaningfully compare schools from different regions with different strengths, limitations, student bodies, and educational goals.
85% of Upper School boys play at least one of the 17 varsity sports that are offered at St. Mark's.
In the 2019-20 year that was shortened by the coronavirus, SM teams won 4 out of 7 conference championships, and, for the 12th time since 2007, the program won the SPC Directors Cup, an overall measure of conference success.
Some individual teams have had lengthy periods of success. Lacrosse won 9 conference championships between 2004 and 2013. The swim team won 20 conference championships between 1995 and 2016. The tennis team won 13 conference championships between 1975 and 1990. Water polo won 15 regional championships between 2001 and 2016. Wrestling won 37 conference championships between 1973 and 2015, as well as 13 state championships. The water polo team won 6 Texas state championships between 2014 and 2021. Much earlier, between 1910 and 1932, the Terrill football team won 144 games, lost 23, and tied 8; during those 23 seasons, the school lost only 4 times to high school teams (the other losses were to teams of college freshmen).
Some well-known alumni were athletes while at St. Mark's. For example, Luke Wilson was part of a 1989 St. Mark's 4x400 relay that set an SPC conference record (3:21.38) that lasted for over 20 years, while Tommy Lee Jones went on to become an all-conference offensive lineman for Harvard's football team.Boz Scaggs was a track and soccer star while at St. Mark's, though it was also during high school that he took his first guitar lessons from a classmate, Steve Miller; while in high school, they created a band called the Marksmen.
43 SM seniors signed letters of intent to play twelve different varsity collegiate sports between 2017 and 2021. The most common college destinations of these athletes: MIT (5), Dartmouth (4), Sewanee (4), Princeton (3), and Yale (3).
As of 2018, St. Mark's recognized 90 extra-curricular clubs and offered 24 fine arts courses.
SM activities that have received consistent national recognition include journalism, creative writing, debate, poetry, photography, chess, and design.
Four different 2019-20 SM publications earned Gold Crowns from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, an honor that goes to fewer than a dozen publications per category in the country. It was the 8th straight Gold Crown for The Marque, the school’s literary magazine, and the 18th consecutive for The ReMarker, the newspaper, extending the school’s national record for winning this award. In the category of “General Print Magazines,” SM publications (Focus and the Scientific Marksman) won two of the four Gold Crowns awarded in 2019-20. In 2019, the middle school magazine won its 3rd consecutive Gold Crown, an award given to only 1 or 2 publications in the country.
Three SM publications won National Pacemaker Awards from the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) for the 2018-19 school year. The literary magazine was one of 8 national winners, while the newsmagazine and newspaper were two of the 19 publications in the newspaper/newsmagazine category; it was the 7th straight year that the newspaper had earned this top honor. In 2017, the yearbook won its 6th Pacemaker Award in 7 years and its 11th overall.
St. Mark's seniors have been named journalist of the year in the state of Texas for eight consecutive years (2013–2020) by the NSPA. In 2019, a senior was named NSPA's national journalist of the year; he became the fourth SM student in 7 years to rank among the country's top three high school journalists.
For the 14th time in 15 years, 2021 SM Photography was named “Top Program” by the Association of Texas Photography Instructors. The contest annually draws about 7000 entries from about 90 schools.
The debate team has won four national policy debate titles, most recently winning the National Debate Coaches Association title in 2016. In addition, the team won the "world championship" at the 2015 International Public Policy Forum. The school itself annually hosts one of the most prestigious high school debate tournaments in the country, the Heart of Texas Invitational.
Between 2015 and 2017, four SM students won top awards for design from the nationwide YoungArts competition. In addition, seventeen SM students were finalists in that YoungArts competition between 2009 and 2018. Since 2010, multiple SM students have had their films selected for inclusion in the SXSW film festival. One student had his work profiled in Popular Photography magazine, and another earned seventeen of Scouting's Palm Awards in addition to earning the Eagle Scout rank (a feat achieved by two dozen boys in the history of Scouting).
The avidity with which students pursue extracurricular activities is mocked in the film Rushmore, which was co-written by Owen Wilson '87, who — like the film's protagonist — was asked to leave the school prior to graduation. Rushmore was set at a fictional cross between St. Mark's and Houston's St. John's School, the alma mater of the other co-writer and director, Wes Anderson. The film features a protagonist who participates in dozens of clubs and activities.
The local press has written about ways in which St. Mark's blends in and differs from the rest of Dallas.
St. Mark's and its alumni have been involved in several 21st-century national issues.
One alumnus, Richard Spencer ‘97, is a prominent neo-Nazi who coined the term alt-right and who has punctuated some of his speeches with a Nazi salute. To protest Spencer’s notoriety and anti-immigration views, his SM classmates began an online fundraiser in November 2016 to assist refugees to Dallas. As of November 2018, the fundraiser had raised $64,000. Appalled by Spencer's ongoing influence, Graeme Wood ‘97, wrote a lengthy article, “Richard Spencer Was My High School Classmate,” for the June 2017 The Atlantic, where he is a contributing editor.
Another alumnus, Kurt Eichenwald ‘79, wrote a series of Newsweek cover stories critical of candidate Donald Trump and then spoke critically of President-elect Trump on December 16, 2016, during an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox television. Later that evening, knowing that Eichenwald had a self-documented seizure disorder, a white nationalist retaliated by sending Eichenwald epileptogenic GIFs over Twitter. The ensuing seizure lasted 8 minutes and was life-threatening. Within hours of a suspect being arrested for aggravated assault with a hate crime attachment, Spencer announced the creation of an online defense fund for the admitted perpetrator. In 2020, Eichenwald won the federal case, along with a $100,000 judgment. The state criminal court case has been deferred indefinitely because of COVID-19.
A former St. Mark's teacher had been allowed to resign from his teaching job at Phillips Exeter Academy in 1980 after having admitted to making sexual advances towards an underage student. He was given excellent letters of reference from Exeter and then spent several years teaching at the Trinity School in New York City. In 1984, the teacher moved to Dallas, where he taught at St. Mark's until his retirement in 2012. No allegations of misconduct are known to have been uncovered since the episodes at Exeter in the late 1970s, and St. Mark's was unaware of the allegations until after the teacher retired.
^"St. Mark's School of Texas". smtexas.org. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
^Lindsley, Philip (1909). A History of Greater Dallas and Vicinity. Brookhaven Press. ISBN 978-1-58103-438-7.
^Bailey, George M. (October 22, 1924). "Houston Post-Dispatch (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 40, No. 201, Ed. 1 Wednesday, October 22, 1924". The Portal to Texas History. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
^Society, Dallas Historical; Society, Dallas County Heritage; Plaza, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey; Hazel, Michael V. (2000). "Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall, 2000". Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas. 12 (2). ISSN 1071-0426.
^"High Scoring Football Games". Luckyshow.org. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
^ abSpalding's Official Foot Ball Guide ...: Foot Ball Rules as Recommended by the Rules Committee ... American sports publishing Company. 1919.
^"Winn Family Announces $10,000,000 Gift". October 30, 2014.
^"St. Mark's School of Texas - Winn Science Center".
^"Groundbreaking for New Science Center". May 17, 2017.
^"Donor gives $10 million to St. Mark's School of Texas | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Business Columnists: Robert Miller". Web.archive.org. November 5, 2007. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
^"TEXAS INDUSTRIES | The Handbook of Texas Online | Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)". tshaonline.org. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
^"3 North Texas Kids Among 8 Co-Champions at National Spelling Bee". May 31, 2019.
^"Senior Named National Science Finalist". January 26, 2016.
^"Intel STS 2016 Finalists Announced | Society for Science". January 28, 2016.
^"Senior Named Presidential Scholar in the Arts". May 26, 2020.
^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110728032430/http://www.smtexas.org/news/news/detail.asp?newsid=532601&from=archive. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
^"Marksman Places in Team USA Chemistry Olympiad". June 19, 2020.
^"The ReMarker | September 2014 by St. Mark's School of Texas - Issuu".
^"National Journalism Teacher of the Year". March 17, 2021.
^"Journalism Teacher Receives National Award". November 18, 2020.