St. John's School (Texas)
|St. John's School|
Faith and Virtue
|Houston, TX, USA|
|Religious affiliation(s)||no religious affiliation|
|Head of School||Mark Desjardins|
|Faculty||75 (Upper School)|
|Average class size||135 (Upper School) 120 (Middle school) 60 (Lower school) 42 (Kindergarten)|
|Student to teacher ratio||7:1 (Upper School)|
|Color(s)||Scarlet and Black|
St. John's School (also known as St. John's or SJS) is a coeducational independent school in Houston, Texas, United States, presenting a 13-year sequence of university preparatory training. Noted for its selectivity and academic rigor, St. John's has been described by Forbes.com as one of "America's Elite Prep Schools,", referred to by the New York Times as "the best private school in Houston", and listed by the Wall Street Journal as among schools in the United States with the largest percentages of graduates attending highly selective universities such as Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. The School was founded in 1946 and is a member of the Houston Area Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), and the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC). Though situated adjacent to St. John the Divine church, St. John's has no religious affiliation. It has been coeducational since its founding and has produced many notable alumni.
St. John's is a not-for-profit entity and receives no state or federal funding. Tuition for the 2013-2014 school year is $22,951 for Upper School students, $21,664 for Middle School students, and $19,146 for Lower School students. Many students receive partial to full need-based scholarships, as the School claims to have a need-blind admissions policy.
- 1 History
- 2 Campus
- 3 Academics
- 4 Student life
- 5 St. John's in the Media and Popular Culture
- 6 Headmasters
- 7 References
- 8 External links
History of the area
In the 19th century Michael Louis Westheimer, a German immigrant who arrived in Houston in 1859, bought a 640-acre (260 ha) farm at an auction for $2.50 United States dollars per acre. On his property Westheimer established a school for local children, including some of his relatives from Germany. The path to the school became "Westheimer's Road," now called Westheimer Road.
Toward the close of World War II, W. St. John Garwood and other prominent Houstonians sought to create in Houston a "school of exacting standards" in the development of individual, spiritual, ethical, intellectual, social, and physical growth of its students. In January 1946, Alan Lake Chidsey, former headmaster of both the Pawling School (today the Trinity-Pawling School) and the Arizona Desert School and the post-war Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, was asked to fly to Texas to speak at a gathering of interested members of the Houston community. Frontrunners of the idea, Mr. and Mrs. W. St. John Garwood, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Merrick Phelps, Mr. R. E. Smith, Mr. J. O. Winston, Jr., and the Reverend Thomas Sumners of the Church of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church were among those present at the meeting. At Mr. Chidsey’s persuasion, Mrs. William S. Farish immediately committed to her involvement with the School, and many others followed.
A proposal was drafted that entailed combining forces with the St. John the Divine nursery school to create the School. St. John's first 344 students filed into St. John the Divine's chapel on Opening Day, September 27, 1946. The entire campus, located on what used to be Westheimer's farm, was six acres (2.4 ha).
Today, St. John's covers 28 acres (11 ha) of land and educates 1,225 total students supported by over 200 faculty and staff. In late December 2012, the School purchased an additional 13 acres of adjacent land for approximately $90 million, resulting in its physical footprint increasing by approximately 33%. Plans for the specific use of the additional property have not yet been announced. Although the School's size has grown, the number of students per classroom remains small, and its student-teacher ratio is approximately 7:1. Despite its lack of religious affiliation, the School provides non-denominational Judeo-Christian Chapel services at the church of St. John the Divine each Wednesday morning during the academic year. In recent years, the Chapel program has branched out to offer more multicultural services, hosting speakers from a diverse range of faiths and non-religious backgrounds, such as environmentalists, athletes, and faculty or student alumni.
St. John's comprises two campuses, divided by Westheimer Road, that are connected by two pedestrian tunnels underneath Westheimer. The Brown (South) Campus contains the Lower School (classes K-5) and the Georges Middle School (classes 6-8) as well as the Virginia Stuller Tatham (VST) Fine Arts Center and the Smith Athletic Center. The Cullen (North) Campus houses the Upper School (classes 9-12) and the focal point of the School, the Quadrangle. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools each maintain their own libraries. Upper and Middle School students share the Upper School cafeteria, and the Lower School has its own. Two tunnels run underneath Westheimer Road that connect the North and South Campuses. The school also maintains two athletic fields across West Alabama Street for field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse, and a baseball field adjacent to St. Luke's Methodist Church. In addition, the school's main field, Skip Lee Field, is located on the South Campus to the east of the Middle School and to the south of the Lower School.
St. John's School is located in the Upper Kirby district bordering on River Oaks, an affluent residential neighborhood. While the school draws many students from the Houston neighborhoods of River Oaks, Tanglewood, and Memorial and the cities of West University Place and Bellaire, the school's student body hails from nearly every zip code in Houston and surrounding areas.
St. John's receives applications from students throughout the Houston area, and its historic acceptance rate is approximately 16%. Among its graduating Class of 2012, the three private colleges and universities with the highest number of St. John's matriculants were Rice, Stanford, and Yale.
St. John's Upper School students graduate having completed at least three course credits in mathematics, reached level III in a foreign language, amassed four course credits in English and writing, two course credits in laboratory science, three course credits in history and social studies, two years in physical education or sports (as of 2010), and one course credit in the arts (music, visual arts, theater, or dance).
The School reports that the median scores for juniors taking the SAT-I in 2006 were 735 Critical Reading, 730 Math, and 720 Writing. St. John's encourages students to take two or three SAT Subject Tests in preparation for the college application process.
St. John's has moreover had a high level of success with the National Merit Scholarship Program. From 2000-2010, the School has had an average of 47 National Merit Finalists each year (out of an average class size of 130 students), equating to approximately 36% of each graduating class. This statistic leads all Houston schools.
St. John's offers Advanced Placement courses in nearly every department. Students enrolled in AP-designated courses are encouraged to take the corresponding AP exams in early May of that year.
In 2011, St. John's adopted a House System whereby each student is sorted into one of six "Houses," much like in the Public school (United Kingdom). Each House, comprising students of all grades, is named after one of six influential figures and institutions in the School's history. While House assignment is random, siblings are always assigned to the same House. The Houses are: Chidsey, Winston, Hoodwink, Mulligan, Claremont, and Taub.
St. John's sponsors a wide variety of interscholastic sports, including cross-country, volleyball, field hockey, and football in the fall season; soccer, basketball, swimming, and wrestling in the winter; and golf, tennis, lacrosse, softball, baseball, and track and field in the spring.
In a tradition that began in 1951, St. John's plays its annual homecoming football game against crosstown rival The Kinkaid School at Rice Stadium. Leading up to the contest is Kinkaid Week, which comprises traditions, activities, and pep rallies (including a whole-school pep rally that has featured helicopter fly-ins, motorcycle drive-throughs, and the like) designed to inspire school spirit for the game.
St. John's athletics has historically enjoyed success, especially in lacrosse and field hockey. The lacrosse program at St. John's has long been successful, producing numerous All-American athletes at the collegiate level. In 2006, both the boys' and girls' lacrosse teams won the Texas High School Lacrosse League Championship. In recent years, the varsity girls' field hockey team won the SPC Championship in 2008, 2011, and 2012. Current and past SJS field hockey alumnae have gone on to play for varsity collegiate programs, four as captains, at Dartmouth College, Brown University, Kenyon College, Yale University, Stanford University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Washington and Lee, Colgate University, Rutgers, and Swarthmore. Twenty-nine field hockey players have been named High School Academic All-Americans since 2000.
In other sports, both the boys' and girls' track and field teams won SPC championships in 2013 (with the girls' team having won SPC in 2012 and 2010), and the girls' cross country team and the girls' volleyball team won SPC championships in 2009.
A variety of student organizations support the sports teams. The cheerleading program features three squads: 8th grade, junior varsity (9th and 10th grades), and varsity (11th and 12th grades). Drum Corps is a musical ensemble that provides spirited entertainment at sporting events, especially football games. Pots and Pans is a recently established group that lends their percussive talents to the sidelines and stands.
Students can participate in the arts either in classes for academic credit, performing ensembles, or extracurricular organizations.
In Upper School, one fine arts credit is required for graduation. Though this technically can be fulfilled with an Independent Study Project, most if not all students opt to participate in performing ensembles or take classes during the academic day to complete their requirement. Visual art (including basic design, photography, painting and drawing, sculpture, and ceramics), theatre, art history, music theory, and more eclectic classes (such as the history of rock and roll) are offered.
The oldest extracurricular arts organization at St. John's is Johnnycake, founded by first headmaster Alan Lake Chidsey in 1949, that originally produced and performed works written by Mr. Chidsey. Open to all Upper School students, Johnnycake provides opportunities in all aspects of theatrical production from technical crew to set and costume design to performance. Once participants dedicate 100 hours of service to Johnnycake, they are eligible to become members of the International Thespian Society. Upon graduation, students may submit an essay to earn lifetime membership to Johnnycake. Johnnycake supports three main theatrical productions, two repertory plays and a musical, each year in the Upper School as well as other smaller student productions. Shortcake, the middle school division of Johnnycake, offers two to three production opportunities in the Middle School each year.
Students can participate in many choral groups. Any male student in 4th through 12th grade may participate in the Boy Choir in addition to their regular choral assignment. In grades 4 and 5, students may participate in the co-ed St. John's Singers. The highlight of the year for the St. John's Singers is the Spring Fling, the annual spring musical production. In Middle School, girls may participate in Cantatores. Upper schoolers have many options, from the all-women Les Chanteuses, mixed Chorale, and the selective chamber choir Kantorei. The Chapel Singers are a small volunteer choir that sings frequently at Upper School chapel services. Every other year, Kantorei travels on an international singing tour, with recent trips having been to Brazil, Canada, Austria, Italy (including a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica), Spain, and the Czech Republic.
No formal marching band exists at St. John's, but there are many musical ensembles and smaller bands. In Middle School, Beginner Band is open to class 7 and 8 students who are interested in learning to play a wind instrument. The Middle School Intermediate Band performs a repertoire ranging from standard band to pop and jazz. Students in intermediate band can also audition for the Middle School Jazz Band. Students more adept at string instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass) can join the orchestral group, Sinfonietta. The Upper School features both a Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band as well as the Chamber Strings. Sporting events are frequently cheered on by the Drum Corps.
Dance is also offered at St. John's. Beginning in sixth grade, students in the fine arts rotation take dance for one quarter, currently taught by Ms. Susan Sanders. This continues until seventh grade, but in seventh grade, students may join the Impulse dance ensemble as an extracurricular involvement. In 8th grade, Impulse is offered as a course to fulfill the fine arts requirement. Upper School dance is a co-curricular course taken for credit. The program consists of five levels in ascending order: Caprice I, Caprice II, Caprice III, Caprice IV, and Terpsichore. An additional level, Caprice IV, was added for the 2009-2010 school year due to the number of dancers who auditioned. Just for fun, informal tap dance lessons are sponsored by Tap Club for Upper School students.
The Review is the official student newspaper of St. John's School. Established by Headmaster Alan Lake Chidsey, it is one of the oldest student organizations on campus and is affiliated with the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Although originally both students and teachers contributed to the publication, now it is an entirely student-driven organization. Unlike the student journalism program at many schools, participation on the newspaper does not earn academic credit. The Review publishes issues monthly, producing eight issues each year. In 2011, the Review launched the Review Online (blogs.sjs.org/review), a website featuring news articles, photos and videos and began a Twitter feed, @SJS_Review.
The SJS Academic Bowl Team has been a successful quiz bowl team at local, state, and national levels. Also known as the Academic Team or Nerd Squad, the group competes in local, state, regional, and national tournaments of academic, intellectual, and sometimes esoteric topics related to anything from mathematics, science, the humanities, or "trash" (pop culture, sports, etcetera). The team often attends tournaments hosted by the Texas Quizbowl Alliance and other institutions. Most notably, it won the NAQT High School National Championship in 2002, placed third in 2003 and 2004, and advanced to the semifinals of the PACE NSC in 2004.
Dozens of other student organizations, from the Yearbook to Model United Nations to "Pots and Pans" (a moral/spirit group), are active throughout the academic year. Most clubs are organized by students and sponsored by faculty. Almost any interest supported by a group of students can be organized into a club, subject to approval by the Dean of Students. Funds are often provided for club activities, examples being pizza lunches or science materials. Other examples of clubs include sports based clubs (baseball, hockey, soccer), science (Faraday), cinematography (MavTV), academic (Quiz Bowl, Academic Challenge), government (Junior Statesmen, Model UN), international interests (Spanish Club, Italian Club, International Club), and general interests (Auto club et al.). Interest and activity in clubs varies from year to year.
Though St. John's does not require community service hours for graduation, the student body boasts almost 100% student participation in community service projects. Service is encouraged by either participation in school-sponsored projects or individual participation in outside-of-school organizations. Many Upper School students receive awards both inside and out of school for their contributions to the community.
Community service is first introduced in Lower School. Weekly canned food drives are held, and classes visit local food banks to see how their contributions are used. The annual drive to provide holiday presents to underprivileged families is a highlight of the year, culminating in a field trip to personally deliver the presents to the families. Many Lower School students choose to donate some of their art projects to Texas Children's Hospital each year.
In Middle School, additional community service projects are introduced. Students may be more involved in planning and helping with the organization of these projects. Each advisory may choose or designs a project to participate in as a group, and each grade completes one large project each year. In addition, there are many projects each month that all students are welcome to join. Examples of Middle School projects include volunteering at Special Olympics athletic events, organizing and dispensing toiletries for the homeless, participating in the annual Galveston Beach Clean-Up, and others. In Middle School and Upper School, personal service is promoted over monetary donations or drives.
Upper School community service is mostly student-driven. Any student may submit a proposal to design and lead their own project and recruit other participants. As a result, a wide variety of projects tailored to every interest develop, ranging from writing letters to troops stationed in Iraq to cleaning up trash from Galveston beach or Buffalo Bayou to escorting athletes at the Special Olympics. Students have worked with organizations including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the Flower Foundation, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Texas Adopt-a-Beach, the Special Olympics, Texas Children's Hospital, the Seniors' Place, J. Will Jones Elementary, Breakthrough Houston, and more.
St. John's requires that students wear the school uniform during the school day. Most uniform pieces must be manufactured by Sue Mills, a school uniform supplier. The St. John's plaid, only available from Sue Mills, is distinctive from any other school's.
The uniform for all male students consists of belted khaki shorts or pants, worn with a white, red (Lower School), white and black (Middle School), or white and navy and black (Upper School) polo shirt.
Lower School girls may wear a red or plaid jumper over a white peter pan collar blouse with red piping, khaki shorts or pants with a red or white polo shirt, or a plaid skort with a red or white polo shirt. Middle School girls may wear a red or plaid skirt with a white or black polo or a white oxford shirt or khaki shorts or pants with a white or black polo shirt. Upper School girls may wear a red or plaid skirt with a white or navy polo shirt or khaki shorts or pants with a white or navy polo shirt.
Occasional out-of-uniform days are observed for special events (e.g., "Kinkaid Week" festivities), charitable causes (e.g., breast cancer), or for no particular reason (e.g., Hawaiian day). During these days, students are expected to follow the day's theme (if there is one) and the out-of-uniform guidelines presented in the school handbook.
Nickname and Mascot
The St. John's nickname and mascot have had a controversial history. The original nickname, "Crusaders," lasted only three years due to its religious connotations. "Rebels" was selected as the replacement nickname in 1949, with Confederate symbol Johnny Reb as the mascot.
In 1990, the Upper School students voted to discontinue the mascot and nickname. A year later, all symbols of the Confederacy were disassociated from the School, although the nickname "Rebels" was retained with the hopes it could be connected with the American Revolution or more generally as an invocation of nonconformity and independent thinking.
In the spring of 2004, by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees, St. John's School officially changed its nickname to Mavericks in order to further distance itself from any Confederate implications while still retaining the association with independence and individualism. The change was supported by a majority of faculty, though some students and alumni opposed the change. Today, the Maverick nickname is widely used and accepted, as most students who attended St. John's under the "Rebel" nickname have since graduated.
In 2008, St. John's began using a horse mascot known as Maverick in its pep rallies.
St. John's in the Media and Popular Culture
National media reports about selective private schools in the United States have mentioned St. John's. For example, the New York Times has referred to SJS as "the best private school in Houston", while Forbes.com profiled SJS in its story titled "America's Elite Prep Schools," alongside Phillips Academy Andover, Choate Rosemary Hall, and others. In November 2007, the Wall Street Journal featured St. John's in a chart accompanying an article titled "How to Get Into Harvard."  The chart reported that 9% of SJS graduates in 2007 went to one of eight highly selective colleges. St. John's and fellow SPC member St. Mark's School of Texas were the only Texas schools on the list, which comprised schools across the country, including Phillips Exeter Academy, Trinity School, Harvard-Westlake School, and Sidwell Friends School.
St. John's received media attention during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2000 as part of the press's reporting on the academic background of then-candidate George W. Bush when it was reported—and confirmed by Bush after he had consulted with his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush—that he had applied to SJS as a child and had been rejected.
In 1998, alumnus and film director Wes Anderson (Class of 1987) filmed the loosely autobiographical Rushmore at St. John's, using the School as the setting for Rushmore Academy. As reported in The Atlantic, "When Wes Anderson scouted locations for the all-boys prep school . . . Rushmore, he looked as far as the U.K. in search of the perfect location. It wasn’t until he saw some photos of St. John’s, his own high school, that he realized the places he had been imagining were the ones he knew from going to school there." Like protagonist Max Fischer, Anderson as a young student had staged numerous action epic plays in the now-demolished Hoodwink auditorium of his alma mater, with titles like The Five Maseratis and The Battle of the Alamo. Featured prominently in Rushmore are the North Campus's Quadrangle and circle driveway (pictured), the Upper School library, and chapel service at the church of St. John the Divine. Anderson moreover used a number of students and alumni as extras in the film. Anderson also filmed at neighboring Lamar High School and rival The Kinkaid School.
Notable alumni and visitors
In addition to Wes Anderson, notable St. John's alumni include journalist and pundit Molly Ivins (who described her time at SJS as feeling like "a clydesdale among thoroughbreds"), former deputy press secretary to U.S. President Ronald Reagan and media commentator Peter Roussel, Latina magazine founder Christy Haubegger, guitarist Hunter Perrin, and bestselling author Katherine Center.
St. John's has hosted special visitors throughout the years, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli (whose first U.S. performance was at St. John's in 1993), and City of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, among others.
- Alan Lake Chidsey, 1946–1966
- Elwood Kimball Salls, 1966–1976
- Thomas Read, 1976–1981
- James R. Maggart, 1981–1991
- E. Philip Cannon, 1991 - 1998 (1991 - 1992 as interim headmaster)
- John Allman, 1998–2009 (followed by interim headmaster Jim Hendrix, 2009-2010)
- Mark Desjardins, 2010–present 
- "Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Name"
- "Westheimer was a place for learning." Houston Chronicle.
- Westheimer, Mitchell Louis from the Handbook of Texas Online
- "St. John's School ~ Theatre"
- "St. John's School ~ Choral Music"
- "St. John's School ~ Instrumental Music"