Words by Kenny Quayle ’16, Marketing Intern and Alumnus
All students at Academy at the Lakes know who Head of School Mr. Mark Heller is. He is the man you go to see when you first come to Academy; the man whom you go to for help and sometimes discipline; the man who conducts you while you sing; the man who sweats furiously in the pit orchestra to create the masterpieces of production that are our school musicals.
He is a pillar of the Academy community, a benevolent leader of our school family, and the shield of the student to protect against the harsh world outside. He is the man who makes sure this crazy, chaotic, loving, fun community operates. The walls of our metaphorical bastion would crumble without Mr. Mark Heller at the foundation. This is ever-apparent in the quotations collected from both students and faculty.
Quotes from Faculty and Students
“Mr. Heller is a good man. I have known him since 3rd grade, and throughout my schooling he has offered me many opportunities to succeed and provided support throughout my toughest moments. He is always willing to help and he has counted me among his many pupils whom he mentors to build a better future.”- James O’Donnell ’17
“Mr. Heller has been here as long as I have. He has always been there for me whenever I have a problem.”- Melissa Feingold ’18
“Mr. Heller is super supportive and always pushes you to do your best. He was the reason I first came to and stayed at academy, and also pushed me to become better both in chorus and in my studies.”- Alise Lowry ’18
“I’ve known Mark for 16 years, and his commitment to helping others, even when his efforts are behind the scenes, has impacted many lives. There are heads that rest better at night, and will be for generations to come, due to his vision and compassion.”- Mr. Eric Wilson, Lower Division Instructor
“I appreciate how he can inspire others as an orator. I always have the urge to jokingly yell “AMEN” when he finishes speaking. I also appreciate the voice in his writing and his inspiring messages. He is a master of his craft, and that is never more evident than when he speaks.”- Mrs. Kim Vreeland, Upper Division Instructor
“I love watching Mr. Heller teaching chorus or during the play week because you get to see him shine in his role as a conductor or performer. You get to see his heart when he works with kids and his love for music.”-Ms. Rachel Klaeren, Upper Division Instructor
“Mr. Heller is a fantastic, open-minded, even-keeled, approachable man, and I think he is always concerned about the right things. He focuses not on the end product of education, but the full process and the joy in the journey.”- Mr. Shawn Moore, Upper Division Instructor
Mr. Heller is, and likely will always in some way be, a benevolent power for the betterment of the Academy community and each individual student. That can be inferred simply from the opinions of others, but if you have met this man, you will confirm this statement. He is a major force of charisma and an ambassador for good in the Academy community, and has shaped many a young girl or boy into a strong adult with a bright future ahead.
Q&A with Mr. Heller
So is it true? That you have a secret lair underneath McCormick?
“That is not strictly true but there are some elements, say urban legends, that I’m not authorized to comment about.”
What is your job description?
“Taking care of people.”
What degree(s) do you have? Where from?
“I have an undergraduate degree (bachelor’s degree) from Yale, and a JD from Boston University School of Law.”
What did you want to do in college?
“I wanted to be the Commissioner of Baseball.”
Why did you stop being a lawyer?
“With apologies to all the lawyers in our community, I wanted my work to have more meaning to me in the broader scheme of life. I, and the school, very much benefit from my background as a lawyer.”
How did you discover Academy?
“By falling in love with my wife. My wife, Kathy, was one of the founding teachers here at Academy in 1992, and when we met in the summer of 2000, she was about to become the Lower Division Director. We dated for a year, got engaged, and then married before the start of the 2002 school year. That time was when the school was transitioning from ownership by the Wendleks to being a non-profit corporation, and Mr. Wendlek offered me the chance to join the administration and help the school become a non-profit independent school, so I came on board on July 1, 2002.”
Tell me about your children?
“All of my children, Ben, Kennedy, and Eden, have attended Academy. They all had Mrs. Grifo, and now that Eden is finishing the fourth grade, all went all the way through Lower Division. Kennedy graduated in 2015 as a 15-year lifer.”
“The human being.”
Favorite kind of music?
“I like many kinds of music, but probably prefer classical and jazz, but I don’t love all classical or all jazz. I love the Beatles, and my wife recently introduced me to Bruno Mars, who I think is great.”
“Our division directors: Mr. Sullivan for his power of creating adults; Mr. Pitcairn for his power of patience; and Mrs. Carley for her power to be both analytical and loving. (Comic books are a big gap in my education).”
Favorite subject in school?
What did you want to be in 11th grade?
“Either a musician or a politician.”
I love when my students…
“Show kindness. I also love it when they realize they have achieved a goal.”
I love working at Academy because…
“I get to do so many different things, all of which help create a better school for the children and families of today and tomorrow. I get to use people skills, math, problem solving, and music just about every day. What could be better?”
When I am not at school, I like to…
“Exercise, be involved with music, read about politics and government, and spend time with my family.”
The best advice anyone has ever given me was…
“’Pass it on.’ Once, when I was a young teacher, I thanked an older teacher for all she had done to help me to learn how to be better. Her response was simply ‘pass it on,’ and I have tried to do that for the rest of my career. On the musical side, my father, who was a professional violinist and conductor, advised me when I was 17 that ‘it is better to have music as avocation than vocation.’ When I was playing a lot of professional jobs as a moonlighting freelancer in my 30s, I really understood what he meant, because I would go to jobs and sit down and play just for personal enjoyment while the guy next to me was doing it to work, to try and scratch out a living.
In the movie of your life, what actor would you want to play you and what would the movie be called?
“Tom Hanks, and it would be called ‘Principal Principles.’ It is a movie about a moral and ethical struggle in school leadership where everyone wins in the end despite tough moments.”
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
“This is where my comic book deficit harms me. Possibly to be able to make people see the big picture.”
If you could have any artist (alive or dead) draw a picture of you, who would you choose?
“Edward Hopper, because his paintings have an effective way of showing introspection.”
If you could go back in time, where would you go and what would you do?
“I would go to 1940s and 1950s New York: awesome baseball, great music, and great styles. I would just live it up, going to see baseball games, seeing great jazz musicians, and wearing awesome hats while experiencing a great city in a great time.”
Who is your favorite student?
“Kenny Quayle – no doubt whatsoever (Mr. Heller definitely said this. The writer did not put this in. Kenny Quayle is 100% Mr. Heller’s favorite).”
I personally have seen this community both with and without Mr. Heller, and I can confirm his impact upon the community is widespread and positive. He has always been a mentor to me, both musically and otherwise, and has helped make me into the man I am today. Without his influence, neither Academy nor its students would be the same. From his fair discipline and kind demeanor to his devotion to the creation of great men and women by Academy, Mr. Heller is an integral part of Academy at the Lakes. I would not be the man I am today without him, and I know many others hold the same belief.