St. Andrew's head looks back on her legacy
Michael Barnes, Out & About
The window of Lucy Nazro's unprepossessing office looks out over the fastidiously tended grounds of St. Andrew's Episcopal School's upper-division campus on Southwest Parkway. There, the St. Andrew's head for the past 32 years can spot students she's supervised since they first stepped foot on the lower-and-middle division campus at West 31st Street 12 years previous.
At the end of this school year, Nazro, 74, will leave behind all three divisions she now heads. During those 32 years, she has persuaded donors, mostly parents, to part with almost $60 million to renovate the old campus and build the geographically separate upper school from scratch, including a soon-to-open $21 million fine arts center.
"Building this high school has been the most fun, the most challenging thing I've ever done," Nazro says. "It was the right thing to do, mainly to see the kids through the years. You can already tell who they are going to be."
A petite packet of compressed energy, Dallas native Nazro has been involved in education — and specifically religious education — almost since childhood. While growing up in Waco, her mother, Lucy Gowdey Collins, tutored kids in Latin, while her father, Burt Collins, managed construction projects.
"In Waco, we all knew everybody," she says. "You went to a movie on Saturday night, drive up and down the main drag of Waco, get a root beer. It was simple, I guess, but I didn't think about it as dull."
Back in the 1940s and early '50s, Waco was not much smaller than Austin, and Waco High School sports teams competed in the same district as Austin High. Visits to the state capital helped stoke an interest in the University of Texas.
"From a very young age, I had set my heart on coming here," Nazro says. She lived in the all-female Littlefield Dormitory her freshman year. "You couldn't wear shorts downstairs. So you wore a raincoat or long coat over your shorts. You had to be in at 9 p.m. on weeknights and 11 on weekends. That was the way it was."
She studied English and history, earning a secondary teacher's certificate while socializing through the Tri Delt sorority. Upon graduation in 1959, Nazro teamed up with four friends to teach in Southern California, sharing a house on Coronado Island for a year. The lure of the unfamiliar then landed her for three years at St. Margaret's School in Tokyo.
"I had the bug to go," she says. "It was huge, a life-changing experience. I don't think I'd been doing what I have been for the last 30 years if it hadn't been for that experience."
Few of the Japanese children were Christians, but their parents recognized the value of college preparation at St. Margaret's.
"I saw the importance of church schools, of the religion being combined with the academics," Nazro says. "One of the things is the place of the spiritual life within the school day, giving up a place for worship and community service. Getting people out of themselves."
When she returned to Austin in 1963, Nazro enrolled in the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.
"Women could not even be on the vestry," she says, referring to a parish's administrative committee. "I took a program for educators, but with most of the same courses as those on the ordination track."
There, she met and married fellow seminarian Phil Nazro, who became a priest and now serves as associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church. The Nazros lived on West 29th Street, mere blocks from the St. Andrew's head's residence they have shared for the past 31 years just off North Lamar Boulevard.
Before she was hired as head, Nazro followed her husband's ecclesiastical life across Texas and Florida. Meanwhile, she taught high school and middle school while raising four children: Francie Thurman, Evelyn Nazro, Alice Nezzer and Phillips Nazro.
After more than a decade as St. Andrew's head, she and the school's board considered adding another private high school in West Austin. Noting that St. Michael's Catholic Academy and St. Stephen's Episcopal School were full (Regents School of Austin had only just opened), a consultant urged St. Andrew's to forge ahead.
"We all kind of gulped," Nazro says. "But he was very convincing. And he had done a lot of research."
First came the land. Given sports fields, they needed 40 open acres (the lower/middle campus fills only 13 acres).
"We brought a group of people out here on a cold January day," Nazro says. "There was not a thing on Southwest Parkway. One horse was wandering around the property. It was pretty, but I thought, ‘Nobody is going to come this far out to school.' "
They did. Among the prominent parents who helped raise money for the school were Susan and Michael Dell. Selling points include arts education from first through 12th grades, foreign language exposure that moves from Spanish to Latin and Mandarin, as well as a thorough-going physical education program. In other words, many of the things that cash-strapped public schools have been forced to cut.
"What sets us a part? We're a community," Nazro says. "The four pillars of the school are scholar, artist, athlete, servant."
St. Andrew's is also one of the few schools that still insists on daily chapel attendance for grades 1-12.
Huge sports fans with season tickets to UT football and basketball games, the Nazros plan to spend part of retirement traveling and basking in the sun at their Galveston Island home. Still, Lucy Nazro will keep her hand in St. Andrew's future by working on the school's 60th anniversary salute and a big fine-arts festival slated for 2013.
"We wanted to do this retirement at a good time for the school," she says. "We were winding up major projects and having our reaccreditation visit in February. So it seemed to be a culminating year in many ways."