Bucks County Leadership: Mark A. Devey, Head of School, Perkiomen School

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Mark A. Devey, the Head of School at Perkiomen School, spoke with MONTCO Today about being born in Pittsburgh and growing up in Bethlehem, where his father was the headmaster of Moravian Academy; his passion for sports, particularly soccer, which he played not only on the collegiate level but also internationally; and why he chose to attend the University of North Carolina.

Devey also discussed the influence that both his parents had on him, his experiences working at different schools all over the country, what brought him back to the Delaware Valley, and the opportunities that lie ahead for Perkiomen School.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up, Mark?

I was born the youngest of five kids in Pittsburgh in 1963 and moved to Bethlehem on the other end of Pennsylvania when I was 8 years old. My father was assisting with the merger of Moravian Seminary for Girls and Moravian Prep School for Boys which became Moravian Academy, where he served as headmaster for nearly 20 years.

Was the transition to a new area challenging?

It was easy. I was used to being a part of an independent school in Pittsburgh because my father worked as an 8th-grade math teacher. I would drive with him to work early each morning and play chess in the dining hall with the other kids until school started. When his day ended late, I lingered and played. The classrooms and athletic fields have always been my home.

When I arrived at Moravian we lived in the historic area of Bethlehem nearby the school. I lingered in and around the old buildings, ran laps around the cemetery where the Last of the Mohicans were buried, and I was always playing sports— a great way to meet and connect with other kids.  

What did your mother do?

Besides raising five kids, my mother helped my father at every turn—they were partners. She was oftentimes helping in the school kitchen or running the bookstore. She was a regular at Busy Workers, a group of women that work on behalf of Central Moravian Church. She was fully committed to my father and the school. I would add that I never had a bigger fan in my mom. She and my father attended nearly every soccer game or other activity I was involved in. I was blessed.

What memories do you have of growing up on campus at Moravian?

The things that impacted me the most were my parents’ and my siblings’ influence. After living in historic Bethlehem for 2 years, we moved to the Upper School Campus on Green Pond Rd. across from RT 22. At that time, Moravian had a boarding program, so there were students living on campus. The teachers and staff looked out for me, supported me, and challenged me as I grew up. We truly were an extended family.

Was your father’s success ever intimidating?

When I was in school, it was challenging at times to have my father as my headmaster. If I was at a party or when a classmate got in in trouble, it was difficult. Most of the time, though, I viewed it as a bonus. My father was a tremendously positive influence within the community. Most of my peers and teachers appreciated his investment in them.

I was fortunate to have had my own success in athletics and in school activities that allowed me to be viewed as my own person, rather than always being connected to his success or position of authority. It gave me some independence.

As I developed into an educator, I never viewed my father’s success as a burden but a strength. He served as my sounding board when I needed him, and the truth is by the time I was heading a school I rarely asked him for advice, but I knew he was always present. I had been soaking in his lessons throughout my entire life. He’d always say, “Listen, I’m not telling you what to do, you don’t need my advice, but maybe you might want to consider the following…”

Even though he passed away 6 years ago I still feel his presence each day. He is still my guide and mentor.

How did you discover you were good at soccer?

I loved running and competing as a kid. On Lehigh University’s fields on Saturday mornings, I started my journey. Parents dropped us off for 2 hours of training and playing matches. I was drawn to it from the start. I wasn’t someone who lost perspective on competition either; I always had a positive attitude. I planned on winning and was driven to do so, but I could take a loss if it came along. Being in the hunt was the greatest joy.

How good were you in your prime, Mark?

At age 17 while I was still in high school, I was offered a starting position on the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL and earned All-American honors that year. I was drafted into each of the Pro Leagues and played for the United States U-23 National Team, scoring the first goal ever for our country in that competition. I also graduated as the all-time leading scorer at the University of North Carolina. I was fortunate to have so many opportunities.

I reached as high a level as I could have before my knees decided it was time to focus on bigger, better things. Two titanium knees now after thirteen surgeries.

Did you work at jobs while you were growing up?

In my childhood, I briefly had a paper route and worked with our buildings and grounds crew during the summers, but I played tennis, baseball, and basketball, in addition to soccer, so that was my job during my youth.

Where does your love of sports come from?

At Moravian Academy, for sure, but summer camp provided endless adventures. I grew up attending Falcon Camp. My father and two fraternity brothers purchased this classic, traditional camp on a lake just west of Pittsburgh with horses, riflery, and archery. I loved outdoors, always active and interacting with others.

My older brother David was influential, as he was an outstanding athlete and played college basketball. We are a lot alike. He was driven as well, but my greatest influence was my father. Few know this, but my dad was an outstanding athlete. He was small and wiry, but he was fearless. He played baseball for the University of Pittsburgh, but he excelled at every sport he played.

We had an ongoing dialogue about pushing me to the limit and seeing where I could go with sports. Never pressure, just sharing in the love of the game. He was humble and on the surface calm and unassuming, but inside he had a fire in his belly.

You were a good teammate, too.

Growing up, I practiced shooting more than anyone I knew. I’d pull out a bunch of balls and my best friend Didier and I would just pass and shoot for endless hours. Half the balls ended up in the cornfield, but a bunch landed in the back of the net.

Mark playing for the US in The U-23 World Cup in Australia.

I loved the pressure and embraced the role of goal scorer. In truth, as much as I loved to score, I found more satisfaction out of being the field general and bringing out the best in my teammates. Their success was my success. That was so much more important to me than being the high scorer.

One of the greatest experiences I ever had was on a soccer team in high school. We started the season without an experienced goalie, so our head coach, Ron Quinn, asked if I would consider playing sweeper to solidify our defense. I could move up to score as needed…  I was one of the leading scorers in the nation, and I remember thinking, “Do I want to play defense?”

I greatly respected Ron and heard him out, and even though I wasn’t thrilled about it, I accepted my role. We were undefeated that season and had fourteen shutouts, and I also led the league in scoring. I learned a lot from Coach Quinn about how to play a more supportive role to benefit the team. At that time, that was what we needed. The game was bigger than statistics. That experience became a part of my ongoing growth as an athlete and as a person. 

What kind of music were you listening to back then?

Nothing is more important to me than music. With so many older siblings, I had a lot of exposure to a lot of different types of music. I liked the singer/songwriters, so my favorites were Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King, John Prine. My favorite band is the BoDeans, a small Midwest band. I like storytelling, so that’s why I like the singer/songwriters with simple harmonies.

One of the great things about being at Moravian was that you participated in everything because there weren’t many of us. I was always on stage, singing with friends and participating in all the shows. I even performed in a rock band for a few years. My friends were really talented and were generous to allow me to sing a few tunes with them. They could drown me out if necessary.

I assume you were a good student. Why did you pick the University of North Carolina for college?

I did well in school, but I didn’t push myself until near the end of my college career. I chose UNC because they had a fantastic athletic program and had a strong soccer program but one that was on the precipice of becoming a top program. I wanted to grow with the team.

I was choosing between Carolina, Duke, and UVA. Having grown up in Bethlehem, I felt sheltered coming from such a small town. I chose to go down south because it was a cultural stretch that I felt I needed.

I visited North Carolina first and watched them play Virginia in basketball back in the day when Ralph Sampson was the center and UVA was an absolute basketball powerhouse. James Worthy and Sam Perkins stepped up and North Carolina knock off UVA; I was there in the bleachers screaming out, “I’m going to Carolina!” I skipped the other campus trips and knew UNC would be my home. I came in as a freshman in Michael Jordan’s class. Great memories.

After college, who were the people who saw promise in you and helped you along the way?

Obviously, my dad was the greatest influence in my life. In every school position I was in, there were always people who set a tone and helped me along the way. I would be remiss again, if I didn’t mention my mom’s support. She is my biggest champion.

I always think about my good friend Barbara Brown. She was the head of the music department at my first job. She and her husband, Don were incredibly generous and supportive people. She made a point of doing something for someone else every day. She would push me and challenge me by putting me stretch myself and to focus on becoming the best person I could be. She was a true mentor and inspiration to me. That tone helped me rise up and be unafraid to take something on for the good of the order.

I learned the most about being a school administrator when I went to the Harvard-Westlake School, a premier day school in Los Angeles. The woman that I worked with Peg Burich; she was the ultimate professional. She was the Dean, and I was the Assistant Dean. That was a school that really provided significant professional opportunities to their staff to become school leaders in the independent school world. Peg, though, taught me how to be a professional.

Peg would not draw attention to herself, but she was a champion for others. I watched and followed her lead. Peg taught me it’s often the people in the trenches who have a direct impact on outcomes, rather than those in the spotlight.

What brought you to the Perkiomen School?

During my career I intentionally chose to work in different parts of the nation in different types of schools, with the hope that someday someone would have the confidence in me to head their school. I’ve worked in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and now back in my home state.

After nine years heading Indian Mountain School, a Pre-K-9 boarding/day school, it was time for a change, and I was craving a new challenge. I was excited about the prospect of running a high school, partly driven by being involved in the college process, the higher-level academics, and more competitive sports. Being back in the area and close to my family, was also an important part of my decision. I wanted to find a school I could invest in until my retirement where I could make a difference and have a lasting impact. It has been the perfect match.

There were challenges at Perkiomen like there is at any school—there is always hard work to be done. No matter what the challenge may be, you just need to have the drive and the commitment to overcome those obstacles. I have never been so happy professionally.

Looking forward, Mark, what are the opportunities and priorities you are focused on?

It’s important, especially now, that the school does not sit still but instead take strategic steps to strengthen program and facilities to remain competitive and valuable to the greater community.  The campaign’s boldest strides forward will be remaking our campus so it turns heads among prospective families, and adding magnetic new spaces – social, creative, academic, and open – that will activate our community now and for decades to come.

Some of the highlights will include building a new eye-catching school entrance, constructing a world-class student center in the heart of the campus, refurbishing existing space to accommodate expanded music performance and practice rooms, and adding a turf field/track and three competition playing fields to extend the seasons for outdoor athletics. 

Perkiomen School isn’t well known in the Delaware Valley. How would you describe the school?

I think it starts with our school motto, which translates to, “it is solved through living.” We’re small, with about 320 6-PG students and we excel at focusing on the individual student. We’ve always been a place where students are part of a tight-knit community, developing a great rapport with their teachers. Yesterday our top scholar commented that “Perkiomen is our HOME and our classmates and teachers are our FAMILY.” She was sincere and I think it’s true.

We have a 180-acre campus, which is just spectacular. Traditionally, there was not much appetite to grow the school to a larger entity. Since I’ve joined the school, my goal has been to get our name out there and we have a faculty and Board of Trustees focused on growth.

Perkiomen has always valued athletics, the arts, and a well-rounded education. It’s always been about doing. In my tenure, I’ve tried to focus on changing the way education is delivered. We have e afresh, innovative approach that has led to the development of a unique institute model of learning, much like college majors, introducing deep-dives into Entrepreneurism, Medical Science, and Artificial Intelligence. Exploration of Perkiomen’s Institutes is a hands-on, student- driven, experiential-based model that’s drawing national recognition.

Perkiomen’s transformational boarding/day school is both worldly and wholesome, made up of students from down the street and around the globe. We’re unafraid to break new ground, creating deep and relevant learning opportunities for our students. It is a safe and welcoming place where students can—as the school’s motto says—“risk becoming your best.”

How has the Board reacted to your approach?

The Board hired me with the hope of stretching who we were as an institution. In my first year, I told them that I wanted to build an entrepreneur institute. They signed off on it and we immediately raised $2 million to develop the new Innovation Center. They have been tremendously supportive of me and my vision throughout my tenure.

I wanted our school to offer experiences other school don’t offer. Entrepreneurism should be a staple in every school’s curriculum. Schools don’t tackle healthcare. Why was that not something we talked about in high school and college? I wanted to begin exposing our kids to these career paths now. We have developed great relationships with colleges, universities, and hospitals where our kids get exposure and mentoring, developing projects, doing research, and going into surgery in simulation labs. It’s an incredible experience for them to decide if this is the career they may want to pursue. Image how expansive the career opportunities are in our healthcare system. We don’t touch those in schools. We do at Perkiomen.

I tried to think of the next game-changer for our society—what was the next iPhone? It seemed natural to focus on artificial intelligence. So why not make that a focal point of a student’s education? We have kids tackling AI issues that many professionals in the real world are working on.

We’ve created a schedule that allows more latitude. It gives kids a chance to tinker and reflect rather than be in the classroom all day long. This experiential education has become an integral part of our culture here in the classroom and off campus.

How have parents responded?

Happy students, happy parents. They fully support what their children are experiencing. Parents see how well-prepared their children are for the next step.  Setting kids up for success here is preparing them for life and making a greater case and a story to tell to get them into top college. We have three gifted, full-time college counselors, too, that assist our student to land the right spot to ensure future success.

What role do Arts and Athletics play at Perkiomen School?

Growing up an athlete and someone who valued the arts, I fully believe they are as important as what takes place in the classroom. We strive to continue to grow our burgeoning arts program and have made athletics a cornerstone of a Perkiomen experience. In our programs our student athletes blossom and can compete with the top schools and give them great exposure.

I refocused our energy, upon my arrival, to grow competitive basketball. It started with hiring a budding, young coach I had great faith in, Thomas Baudinet. Almost immediately, we have risen to become an elite program, with the ability to compete against anyone in the country. Thomas coached our students to an undefeated season this year in which we beat powerhouse Westtown School three times and Phelps twice. He was named Coach of the Year in Pennsylvania in the non-PIAA schools. Each of the last three years we have sent players to Ivy league schools, and have alumni at Villanova, Boston University, etc.

We’ve built out our teams and made a name for ourselves, not with the most premiere athletes but with great teamwork. Our baseball program has been very successful. Our coach who serves as our athletic director, Ken Baker, just won his 500th game. I’m pushing hard to build up our girls’ sports programs. We just hired a Director of Lacrosse to oversee both boys and girls programs, and hired new varsity coaches for girls varsity basketball and volleyball programs. We are developing outstanding student-athletes is an area where we excel.

What do you do in your free time?
Mark and his wife Judy hold Georgia Blue, their family dog.

I still love to play sports and play tennis and golf. Now that my new titanium knees are completed, I feel great. I still love music and going to concerts. My wife and I hike often and like to spend time with our daughters.

I also spend a lot of time watching games at the Perkiomen School rallying behind our students.

I love movies and theatre and my wife and I love to travel.

Finally, Mark Devey, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

My dad encouraged me to fully participate in life of the school, and I not only accepted that challenge, but that’s how I experience life. I’m all in. The more you participate, the more you’re engaged, and the more you put yourself out there, the greater joy you find—and you spread that joy to others.

My dad was a great role model. He was all about “putting yourself out there.” I learned early on that the way you find fulfillment in life is through doing, which ties in perfectly with Perkiomen’s school motto is, ‘risk to be your best.’

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