FOUNDER: Marty Clark, founder of Riverfield School, with the school’s mascot recently. She has decided to retire after this school year.
Since opening in 1984 with 40 young students in a renovated post office building in Brookside, the pages of Riverfield’s history are full of love, growth, and creative approaches to learning. However, as the 2011-12 school year drew to a close, the community prepared to start a new chapter: one without Marty Clark as Head of School.
Marty said she has known since childhood that her future would be in education. “I used to line up my dolls and play school with them,” she commented in a recent interview. She married Tom Clark, a fine educator in his own right, and the couple spent much of their married lives teaching and then founding schools across the country. In 1979, the Clarks and their young boys, Toby and Tim, moved to Tulsa when Tom took a job at Holland Hall. John Bird, the headmaster at that time, attended Trinity Episcopal and the church was planning to open an early childhood center that catered to mothers returning to careers in downtown. Marty took expertise honed from schools in Illinois, Delaware, and Colorado, and began what many agreed was the gold standard for early childhood education at the time.
After a short stint at Trinity (“I was a very involved parent and couldn’t stand missing my boys’ athletic games and other events,” she explained), Marty took over as Director of the well-established Kirk of the Hills Preschool, whose 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. hours better fit into her family’s schedule. Her guidance there helped chart a course for the school, which is widely popular and successful still today.
In 1983, Marty was approached by a Jim and Janet Gotwals, who she had become acquainted with through church. “While I guessed they were going to try to persuade me to start a new school,” she chuckled, “I didn’t anticipate that they would want this school ready in time for their baby, who was due in a few months!”
The doors opened for the first time in August 1984. Long-range plans included a country campus full of outdoor learning opportunities. When enrollment more than doubled in just five months, those long-range plans were accelerated with the intent to move across the [Arkansas] River in a field, thus the name Riverfield Country Day School.
In 1991, Riverfield relocated to its current campus, about a mile west of Highway 75 on 61st Street. In the next nine years, the campus buildings expanded to serve over 400 students, many in older grades. “Even before we moved to this campus, we were known as ‘the school with the animals.’ The move across the River enabled us to expand the barnyard and other outdoor learning opportunities,” said Marty. A school-funded purchase and two donations of property from Steve Jatras, former grandparent and Board member, brought the total acreage to 90.
`Riverfield is hosting a Marty Party to honor Mrs. Clark on her retirement from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5. Those who have known Marty through Riverfield or other schools and community activities are encouraged to attend. The casual on-campus event will include games for children of all ages, a cookout dinner, and a short program honoring Marty’s commitment to education in the Tulsa community. To , visit www.riverfield.org and click on the Marty Party link.