Private Schools Column

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After scouting more than 70 college campuses and private schools, producers of the new film "Dead Poets Society" chose St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del., for location shooting.

The film, set in 1959 at the fictional Welton Academy in Vermont, stars Robin Williams as a Welton alumnus who returns to teach English at the all-boys boarding school.

Mr. Williams's character uses some novel teaching methods to stir a love for poetry in his students and encourage them to become free thinkers. But he ultimately runs into trouble from the school's stern headmaster.

St. Andrew's, a coeducational school located on some 2,000 acres of lush farm land outside of Wilmington, looks the part of the classic East Coast boarding academy.

Jon O'Brien, its headmaster, says the director of the film, Peter Weir, "walked around with me one day last August and you could tell he liked the campus. It is a wonderful Gothic campus that fit the storyline perfectly."

Most of the filming was done over Thanksgiving and Christmas to minimize disruption. Some 85 students and 12 faculty members were chosen as extras, including three students who play members of Mr. Williams's fictional class.

Mr. Weir, an Australian who has directed such hits as "Witness" and "The Year of Living Dangerously," enrolled his daughter at St. Andrew's for the fall term.

The film is doing well at the box office and gets a generally favorable review from Mr. O'Brien, who concedes it is not without faults.

"Most of the adults are projected as too much the heavies," he says. "The headmaster would have been more effectively drawn if he were more complex. He's too evil."

He also hopes moviegoers do not confuse the rigid school portrayed in "Dead Poets Society" with those of today.

"We hope people will have the knowledge that this is a period piece," says Mr. O'Brien. "Boarding schools have all changed. In the old days, there was much more of an emphasis on conformity."

Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos has held his first official meeting with private-education groups.

The Secretary met May 24 with representatives of the Council on American Private Education, the National Catholic Educational Association, the U.S. Catholic Conference, Agudath Israel of America, the American Association of Christian Schools, and the Association of Christian Schools International.

Charles J. O'Malley, executive assistant to Mr. Cavazos for private education, said the meeting included a clarification of the Administration's stance on tuition tax credits and other issues.--mw

Vol. 08, Issue 39

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