The Early Days of The Fay School
Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to meet with The Fay School’s founding Head, Marie Fay Evnochides, in her beautiful home. I have known Marie for many years, and so I was particularly excited to sit and ask her questions about her vision and mission around education and The Fay School. Marie founded The Fay School almost 30 years ago with a sharp eye for detail and an innovative touch around children’s early childhood and elementary education. Marie is diminutive of statue while being a giant among educational gurus. How did she find her path?
When I called her to set up our interview, she promptly agreed if only I would stay for lunch. We started our visit in her library. It is apparent how proud she is of her heritage of deep roots in Houston, as evident in the photos lining the shelves.
Since working at Fay, I have heard a lot about Marie’s family, but I didn’t know a lot about their roots. Her mother, Carolyn Homoiselle Grant, was “B.O.I.” (born on Galveston Island). Her father, Ernest Bel Fay “Ernie,” was originally from New Orleans. Marie’s maternal grandfather moved his family to Houston after enduring another big storm in Galveston in 1915. Marie’s parents met in 8th grade and years later married and raised three children, John “Jack,” Carolyn “Randi,” and Marie.
Ernie and his brother Ab Fay had six children between them. The Fay cousins lived on the same street, and all attended St. Johns School until all six Fay children transferred to Kinkaid when Marie was entering the 7th grade. After graduation from Kinkaid, Marie attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY., a very academic and prestigious all women’s college. She recounted that she was way too young to go so far from her home.
Marie credits Sarah Lawrence College for giving her a lifelong love of early childhood education. As she tells it, part of the curriculum was that you must take a course you had never taken before, and you must take it for the full year. She registered for an early childhood course, and the rest, as they say, is “herstory.”
Upon her return to Houston, Marie met with the Kinkaid’s Head of School at the time, John Cooper, and told him that she wanted to teach Early Childhood at Kinkaid. Mr. Cooper wisely directed her to go back to school to get her degree and teach for a year at another school. She finished her studies at The University of Houston with a BA in English Studies. Just had Mr. Cooper had suggested, she taught at The Oaks after graduating.
In 1965, her dream of becoming an Early Childhood teacher at Kinkaid finally came to fruition. Not only was she hired as a lead teacher for three-year-olds, but she eventually found herself overseeing the Early Childhood Program. Kinkaid hired the teachers while she headed the program, all the while teaching. Over the next 25 years, she welcomed hundreds of three-year-old children into her classroom, affectionately known as “The Yellow Door.”
When Kinkaid decided to discontinue offering their program for the three years old children, parents found themselves without a school for their youngsters. Marie’s reputation resonated citywide, and parents approached Marie to start a school. She told them if they supported her, she would do it!
“We had a meeting at my house with four interested people. All we had was an idea, with no money and no building. Our idea was to start the program for three to four years old, then the next year open the school up for Kindergarten. “Our plan was to eventually grow the school to offer grades from three years old to Fifth Grade.” Marie’s husband, Steve Evnochides, was heavily involved in the business model as that was his vocation. With Steve’s steady and careful planning, the school was beginning to take shape.
By August 1990, the intention was to open the school that following fall. Marie and Steve and other grassroots parents now had the plan, but still had no campus. They searched Houston looking for a suitable location but to no avail. Board member Al Lasher suggested to Marie that her family’s home on Post Oak Lane was the perfect setting. The Fay House, designed by the famous architect John Staub in 1938, was being leased out to another family at this time. Marie was certain her mother, Carolyn Grant Fay, would not agree to turn their family homestead into a school. After careful consideration, Carolyn not only agreed to the project, she graciously gifted the school with its first sizable financial gift. The Fay School was on the map!
The Fay School opened its doors in 1991 with 54 children, six teachers, a music teacher, and Francis Jeter, serving as the first chairman of the Board. The initial vision was to offer an early childhood and elementary program that centered around nurturing, hands-on learning with cutting edge teaching on some of the most beautiful property in Houston. The original Board was, as you can imagine, quite anxious. Marie, always confident, reminded them, “build it, and they will come.” I reminded her that although true, they were in large part following her because of her reputation and expertise.
Marie’s fondest memories of Fay’s early days are that everyone was working extraordinarily hard with the same goal in mind: to open this jewel of a school. Little did they know that seeds were planted for the future growth of The Fay School. She said that those days were the most fun she has ever had. In those early years, she was up and ready to go by 6:00am, often staying at Fay until 8:00pm.
Once the school began to grow, they added additional buildings onto the campus. The first building built was the Fondren House (designed by Barry Moore) with its homey feel and porches. Marie taught the Fondren children at Kinkaid, and now their grandchildren were attending The Fay School. Later, with the addition of the Fondren extension, this allowed the school to offer Kindergarten. When you walk into the Fondren House, one sees beautiful blue and yellow tiles with hand prints of her students in the entrance wall. Marie herself was a potter and fondly remembered firing all these tiles. Marie’s touches are all over the campus, from the reading well in the Wolf Library to the amphitheater in the back yard. In the early days, the school did not have a dedicated cafeteria, and so Marie excited the students by telling them they were dining outside ‘al fresco.’ Fay’s Art classroom is stunning because of its carefully placed location in the northwest corner of the building and the many large skylights allowing natural sunlight to stream into it. Also, Marie insisted on installing outdoor sinks for the students to wash their hands. All Marie’s touches!
Marie said that it felt like they were in a capital campaign for 20 years as they continued to grow and needed more buildings to house the increasing enrollment. Once The Fay School had matured into the elementary school that it is today, Marie realized that she needed to leave the classroom and move permanently into serving as the Head of School. Although she moved into this Leadership role full-time, she never really left the classroom.
About the Author: Allison Teare has served The Fay School for over 15 years. As a mother of three and grandmother of eight, she has both personal and professional experience in helping place children in an independent school setting.