Holtberg Puts Bow on His 20 Years at St. Mark’s

Headmaster Arnold Holtberg cut a rug as part of the “Dancing with the St. Mark’s Stars” event in 2010. (File Photo: Christina Barany)
Headmaster Arnold Holtberg cut a rug as part of the “Dancing with the St. Mark’s Stars” event in 2010. (File Photo: Christina Barany)

When Arnold Holtberg obtained his master’s degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Phillidelphia, he chose to journey down the path of educating youth. After 41 years of cultivating young minds, he will take on a new venture at the end of the semester: retirement.

Holtberg came to St. Mark’s in 1993, making him the longest-tenured headmaster in the school’s history. In this time, he’s led two multi-million-dollar fundraising campaigns geared towards campus improvement, resource endowment for financial aid, and faculty support.

As Holtberg prepares to say, “see you later,” he found the time to share with us some details about his career and where he plans to go from here.

Q: Walk us through your career. Where did it all begin?

A: I attended Princeton University and graduated in 1970. Then I attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary with the intention of becoming a parish minister. I took the Master of Arts in religion degree there and decided, instead of going into church work, to go into schoolwork. I began my teaching career at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., in 1973. I worked for a couple of years in the Lunenburg public schools in Massachusetts from ’76 to ’78, and I went back to Lawrence as dean of students in 1978. In 1982, my family and I went to Hong Kong, where I was the high school principal at the Hong Kong International School from ’82 to ’88. We returned to America, to Louisville, Ky., where I was the headmaster of the Louisville Collegiate School from ’88 to ’93. Then, here we are.

Q: How was your experience in Hong Kong?

A: Hong Kong was a spectacular experience for me and my entire family. We developed a view of the world that we could not have developed had we not gone there. Living in Asia was just so growthful for all of us. It was a great experience working in a school where approximately 40 nations were represented at all times, where people were coming literally from all over the world to the school. Most of the students were American, but many were not. We just, I suppose, jumped into the modern era in a way that we could not have had we stayed in America at that time.

Q: Why did you choose education over your original plan of becoming a minister?

A: I just found that, during my work in the church, what I found most fulfilling was working with young people. It was teaching. It was coaching. It was counseling. It was working with the youth group, and I thought that perhaps my greatest ministry would be as a teacher and a coach.

Q: What were some of the goals you had for St. Mark’s when you were appointed?

A: I’ll say this: After having met with members of the search committee and others, and having read a substantial number of documents produced by the school about its strategic plan, goals, and mission, I felt very good about the match between me and St. Mark’s. My goals were to make sure that I fulfilled the mission of the school and that I helped and led this school to enact and implement its strategic plan. And to make sure the place was both an environment in which high achievement was a hallmark, but also that caring — for individuals, students, and adults alike — was also a hallmark.

Q: Talk about the highs and lows of your tenure. What are you most proud of, and what moments did you learn from?

A: What I’m proudest of is that we have strived to fulfill the mission of the school, day in and day out. We’ve really focused on our students, and we have made them the center of the education enterprise. I’m proud that what we do helps them to become more accomplished, stronger boys and young men who will eventually contribute in important ways to our city, state, country, and world.

We certainly have transformed the campus. We have added resources that will allow us to do this job exceedingly well in perpetuity, I hope. Achievement has been the hallmark, but I also think community spirit has been a hallmark.

As with any job or any enterprise, there are times when there certainly are struggles, and those are worthy of note because I think every good organization and every individual has to go through times that are a bit challenging to be tested and to move forward. I will say this: At St. Mark’s, whether there’s an opportunity, a challenge, or a problem, people are always willing to put forth the effort to make sure we have what we need to come out the other end successful.

Q: What have you learned from your time at St. Mark’s?

A: What I’ve learned, and what’s been reinforced perhaps, is that every great accomplishment is a function of team effort. When one is able to build a strong team of highly motivated caring individuals who really pay attention to an organization or school’s mission, the right results ensue.

(This story ran in the May issue of Park Cities People. Jacie Scott is a special contributor and can be reached at [email protected].)

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