Baylor Magazine Article

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Chris Angel '89: Baylor's Tenth Headmaster
Barbara Kennedy

EDITOR’S NOTE: Baylor School headmaster Scott Wilson ’75 has announced his retirement at the end of the 2020- 21 school year, and on April 29, 2020, Baylor’s Board of Trustees named Chris Angel ’89 as his replacement. Wilson was appointed in 2009, becoming the ninth administrator to lead Baylor since its founding in 1893, and we will be celebrating his many accomplishments and career highlights throughout the coming year and in future issues of Baylor magazine.

As a sixth grader at Bright School in 1983, Chris Angel ’89 had no family ties to Baylor, and he could have easily decided to attend McCallie with some of his friends. However, a campus tour led by former varsity basketball coach Jimmy Duke, who was head of admissions at the time, started him on the path as a Baylor student, athlete, alumnus, teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator, before returning in 2021 as the school’s tenth headmaster. In this interview, read more about Angel’s ties to Baylor that span nearly 40 years.

How did you make the decision to attend Baylor as a seventh grader in 1983?

I will never forget it. It was Bright School Visitation Day, and for some reason, my father was running late that morning, and when I was dropped off, the tour was already out. Jimmy Duke took me around, so I got a one-on-one tour from the director of admissions. I felt so wanted and cared for that I left that day and just said, ‘I’ve got to go to Baylor.’ It was really because of Jimmy Duke – he influenced me first and foremost to even go to Baylor.

What I learned from him was the power that an adult can have in a child’s life. That never left me.

You were among the group of students and adults who gathered in the hospital when Coach Jimmy Duke was dying of cancer. How did that experience shape you?

I was very close to Coach Duke. I was in tenth grade and got to hold his hand the day that he died. That was a powerful learning experience, but what I learned from him was the power that an adult can have in a child’s life. That never left me. While Coach Duke never coached me in any sport, he was my coach in life. When I started working at Baylor, I was teaching and coaching. Coach Duke’s former apartment in Lupton Hall had been converted into two separate apartments, and I moved into one of them. I thought the stars had aligned: I’m moving into Coach Duke’s apartment, a place where I spent so much time as a student. I could hear his laughter reverberating through the halls. It was so warm and loving, and I was ready to pay that forward and share that same passion and love with students like he had shared with me.

Angel and Herb Barks '51

How did your career progress at Baylor, and how did that lead to administrative leadership?

For three years, I taught biology and chemistry, coached football and track, and lived in Lupton as a dorm parent. Doug Hale, associate headmaster, asked me to step into the role of dean of the 11th and 12th grades. I was honored that he had confidence in me at the age of 26, and I agreed to do it. I continued to teach a chemistry class as well, and I enjoyed the new responsibilities, including working closely with (dean of 9th and 10th grades) Sue Ramsey. I worked as dean for five years and started thinking about what I wanted to do in the future. Herb (Barks) and I had stayed in touch, and he kept reaching out to me, asking me to visit him at Hammond School in Columbia, S.C., where he was serving as headmaster. Upon visiting, I enjoyed seeing so much student and headmaster interaction while walking around campus with Herb. His love of kids took me back to the years when he was my headmaster at Baylor and influenced the way I wanted to operate. At that time, Hammond’s campus and buildings were far inferior from what I was accustomed to at Baylor. It was my first real revelation that schools are not about buildings; they are about people – they help facilitate teaching and learning, but it’s the people that are most important. In 2002, Herb took a big chance on me by asking me to run a division of the school at the very young age of 31, and I loved working with Herb. His leadership style allowed me to have an enormous amount of freedom in running the upper school. He was wise to understand that experience is often the best teacher, and I had to learn some things the hard way about ownership and accountability, but that would prove to be advantageous for me in the long run. I’m eternally grateful for our time together.

What are some of the highlights of your work as Headmaster of Hammond School?

I was named headmaster of Hammond in 2009 during the last economic downturn. I was proud of how everyone responded to challenges as a whole community. It was everyone working together. We have thrived in so many ways, really. Hammond already had strong traditions in academics and athletics, but we have continued to improve in both areas. Notably, we’ve expanded our academic offerings to include more research opportunities and internships in preparation for the future. Our football team has won the state championship 11 of the last 13 years. In addition to these examples (and many more), I am very proud of growing and developing the arts and community service. I took a lot of what I learned and loved about Baylor and brought it to Hammond. We offer grade level trips from the fourth grade, and experiential education is a huge piece, which I learned from Herb. A lot of our trips are wilderness-based. If you were to ask any Hammond student about me, you would hear that I am always about pushing them outside of their comfort zone, whether it is in the classroom, athletics, arts, global travel, or the wilderness. Another signature program is our select ensemble choir. We have toured internationally eight times, including singing the papal Mass on New Year’s Day at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, which was broadcast live all over the world on the Catholic Channel.

How have you managed leading Hammond in the midst of a global pandemic?

It has been challenging in a different way because it has forced us to adapt and has also really helped reinforce the value of our independence because we are able to adapt and change things very quickly. As head, I had to balance the needs of 100 full-time teachers and 165 employees, and everyone has kept their job. I had to learn how to balance my time differently. Early on, I was completely wearing myself out, joining every Zoom classroom I could from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., just jumping into classes so I could see kids, and trying to be everywhere. However, I quickly learned that we were in a marathon: I learned I couldn’t run it at a sprint the whole time. As a school, we have been able to be innovative, which is what we want our kids to be. I have always told the students that we are preparing them for the future, and we don’t know what the world will look like, but they will be ready because we are teaching them how to be creative problem solvers. And so, the world changed for us on March 13. It pushed the teachers and students to adapt very quickly, and I am so proud of them. Most importantly, the pandemic reinforced our need to be together as human beings in a community.

What would you like the Baylor community to know about your family?

I cannot wait for the Baylor community to meet my family! My wife, Peggy, and I met at the University of Georgia and dated in college. We were married in 1998 and lived on campus until we moved to Hammond. Rosemary, our oldest daughter, just finished her freshman year at UGA; Lilly, our middle daughter, will be a senior at Hammond in 2020-21; and Abigail, our youngest, will finish middle school at Hammond and enroll as a freshman at Baylor in the fall of 2021. Being the wife or child of a headmaster is a lifestyle, and that is the environment in which our family has grown. Peggy is an artist; she is a truly loving, caring, kind, sweet person – her mantra is to ‘love bigger.’ My mantra is ‘no whining,’ so we balance each other out really well as parents.

I am just excited about returning and, with a great team, being able to make a positive difference in the lives of kids and adults.

What excites you the most about returning to Baylor as the school’s tenth headmaster?

For me, Baylor played such a significant role in my life and impacted me in so many ways. I am just excited about returning and, with a great team, being able to make a positive difference in the lives of kids and adults. As headmaster, you have the opportunity to impact students on a larger scale, but also, one of the things I have loved over my career as it has evolved is making a difference in the lives of adults as well. I try to filter most decisions down to do what is best for kids, but I also love to guide and mentor faculty and staff members. I am proud of the community that we have built at Hammond – that strong sense of family and connectedness is one of the things of which I’m most proud. It’s powerful, and that’s what I remember about Baylor. I am excited to take the baton from Scott (Wilson) and continue to foster that culture and community. It’s all about the relationships – that is what I experienced as a student and as a faculty member, and I am looking forward to continuing that as headmaster at Baylor. Ultimately, I look at Baylor as coming home, and I’m beyond excited to do so! Go Big Red!

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