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From the Desk Of: John C. Warren

From the Desk Of: John C. Warren
Creating Special Experiences

One of my great joys is watching faculty members bring their distinctive gifts and passions to their work that results in very special student experiences. Our two 2023 retirees, English teacher and Evill-Glavin Endowed Chairholder Jeniene Matthews and Director of Music James Wallace, provide excellent examples of this pattern.

During her 13 years on the faculty, Jeniene developed a VI Form English elective, Literature on Trial, that drew upon her previous 18 years in the legal profession. This course, mentioned to me frequently by graduates as the most memorable they experienced at St. Mark’s, required students to make a case either for the prosecution or the defense in front of a jury about the actions of characters in novels like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fahrenheit 451.

Among its many virtues, Literature on Trial exemplified how experiential learning can be incorporated into the traditional academic curriculum. The jury that Jeniene’s students tried to convince could include a member of the legal profession, like Jeniene’s husband Greg Matthews, along with faculty members. When I served on a jury, Jeniene encouraged me to be as rigorous and challenging in my questions as I could be so that the students knew what it felt like to be litigators.

Jeniene has said many times that changing professions was the perfect decision for her. However, any of us who have watched Jeniene in action during this class saw a special—and infectious—intellectual spark that clearly derived from her ongoing fascination with elements of the law.

When James Wallace joined the St. Mark’s faculty in 2013, he brought with him a deep love of the organ and of travel. We have been the great beneficiaries of that love. James’s passion as an organist has prompted him to oversee a year-by-year renovation of the Belmont Chapel organ that continues to this day. 1959 pipes have been replaced with 1928 and 1933 vintage pipes, and James even drove to Hampton, N.J. in 2014 to pick up organ pipes that he stored in the basement of his home until they could be installed in 2022. Morning Chapels, evening Chapels, and Lessons and Carols services are all the more special because the organ, thanks to James’s efforts, is even more stunning in the beauty of its sound.

James’s long-standing passion for travel has prompted him to lead truly extraordinary Spring Break travel programs for the choir to Barbados (2015), Cuba (2017), and Ireland (2019), and for the choir and the orchestra to Canada (2023). Edna Kilusu ’19, featured on page 26, participated in the Cuba and Ireland trips. Distinctive about James’s approaches to these trips has been his commitment to incorporating the global citizenship principles of perspective-taking and reflection about culture into what he asks of his students at these extraordinary locales.

Thank you, Jeniene, and thank you, James, for making the experience of your students all the more special because of the long-standing passions you skillfully wove into your work at St. Mark’s.

John C. Warren ’74, Ed.D.
Head of School
 
Photo by Kathleen Dooher