St. John's School (Texas)
|St. John's School|
Faith and Virtue
|Religious affiliation(s)||no religious affiliation|
|Head of School||Mark Desjardins|
|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. 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 claims no religious affiliation. It has been coeducational since its founding and has produced many notable alumni. Noted for its selectivity and academic rigor, St. John's has been described by Forbes.com as one of "America's Elite Prep Schools" 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.
St. John's is a not-for-profit entity and receives no state or federal funding. Tuition for the 2014–2015 school year is $24,512 for Upper School students (grades 9 through 12), $23,137 for Middle School students (grades 6 through 8), and $20,448 for Lower School students (kindergarten through grade 5). Many students receive partial to full need-based scholarships, as the School has a need-blind admissions policy.
As of June 2014, SJS's endowment is $71,554,760.
- 1 History
- 2 Campus
- 3 Academics
- 4 Student life
- 5 In the media and popular culture
- 6 Headmasters
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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 Michael Louis 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 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. The school also owns two properties neighboring the South Campus that house athletic fields. Across West Alabama from the South Campus is the Scottland Yard property, the location of Finnegan Field and Scotty Caven Field. Across Buffalo Speedway from the South Campus is the Taub Property, a 13-acre property acquired by St. John's in December 2012. The school's baseball field along with temporary offices are located on the property as of March 2015.
The St. John's campus spans the Upper Kirby district and the residential neighborhood of River Oaks. In late 2014 the school released its master plan for the campus that included the recently acquired Taub Property. The plan was developed with the assistance of Architectural Resources Cambridge and the input of faculty, students, and alumni.
Admission and college placement
Data released by the School reflects that, from 2010 to 2014, approximately 48% of St. John's seniors went on to matriculate at colleges and universities ranked by U.S. News and World Report as being in the Top 25 of National Universities and the Top 10 of Liberal Arts Colleges.
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's data for the SJS Class of 2015 reflects middle 50% SAT scores of 790–680 in Critical Reading, 790–700 in Math, and 790–690 in Writing.
For years 2012 to 2015, more than half of each SJS senior class were recognized as National Merit Semifinalists or Commended Scholars: for 2012, the percentage was 68%; for 2013, 64%; for 2014, 59%; and for 2015, 64%. Data for the 2013-2014 academic year shows that SJS led all Houston-area schools in both number (49) and percentage (35%) of National Merit Semifinalists in its senior class. Debakey High School had the second-highest number of National Merit Semifinalists in the Houston area (20), and Carnegie Vanguard High School had the second-highest percentage of National Merit Semifinalists in the area (15%). The number of St. John's National Merit Semifinalists constituted 25% of all National Merit Semifinalists in the Houston area for 2013-2014.
St. John's offers Advanced Placement courses in nearly every department, and many students take these college preparatory classes. For example, 346 SJS students took 721 AP examinations in May 2014. Of these examinations, 83% were scores of 4 or 5.
Students and faculty
Enrollment is 364 for the Lower School, 353 for the Middle School, and 583 for the Upper School. Approximately 13% of students are on scholarship or financial aid. Thirty-three percent of students self-identify as being of color. There are approximately 5,862 living alumni.
The total number of faculty at SJS is 186, 110 of whom have master's or doctorate degrees.
In 2011, St. John's adopted a House System whereby each student is sorted into one of six "Houses." 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.
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St. John's sponsors teams in 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, the girls' track and field teams won SPC championships in 2013, 2012, and 2010, and the girls' cross country team and the girls' volleyball team won SPC championships in 2009. Boys wrestling won back to back championships in 2012 and 2013. Boys basketball won back to back championships in 2010 and 2011 and won three in four years with a championship in 2013. After back to back second-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, the Boys Cross Country team won the 2014 SPC championship, their first championship since 2000.
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.
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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 semi-finals of the PACE NSC in 2004. Most recently, St. John's placed 2nd in the 2014 HSNCT National Championships; moreover, star SJS player Carlo de Guzman helped the Texas All-Star team, coached by St. John's faculty member Dr. Chris Romero, capture the NASAT National Championships.
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, curling), science (Science and Math Club, Faraday), cinematography (MavTV), academic (Quiz Bowl/Academic Challenge, Mathematical Problem Solving Club), 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.
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 "St. John's 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.
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.
In the media and popular culture
National media reports about selective private schools in the United States have mentioned St. John's. For example, in March 2015, Business Insider magazine and Niche.com ranked SJS 13th on its list of "50 Smartest High Schools in the U.S." Forbes.com listed 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 listed 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 elite colleges (specifically identified as Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins). 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 the fictitious 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 child had staged numerous epic action plays, with titles like The Five Maseratis and The Battle of the Alamo. Seen in Rushmore are the North Campus's Quadrangle and circle driveway, the Upper School library, and chapel service at the Church of St. John the Divine. Anderson also used a number of students and alumni as extras in the film.
Much of the 2015 horror comedy Clinger, directed by Michael Steves, was filmed on the middle school campus at St. John's. Clinger premiered at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
- Wes Anderson (1987), writer, film director
- Katherine Center (1990), bestselling author
- William Stamps Farish III (1957), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom
- Christy Haubegger (1986), founder of Latina magazine
- Zachary Heinzerling (2002), Academy Award-nominated film producer
- Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger (1961), author
- Alfred P. Hildebrand (1959), former NFL player and Silicon Valley laser pioneer
- Elizabeth Holmes (2002), businessperson, founder and CEO of Theranos, youngest self-made female billionaire in the world
- Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (1964), anthropologist
- Molly Ivins (1962), journalist and pundit (who described herself as feeling like a "Clydesdale among thoroughbreds" in comparing herself to her fellow students at SJS)
- Ken Keeler (1979), television writer, Late Show with David Letterman and The Simpsons
- Lindon Leader (1968), FedEx logo creator and renowned designer
- Peter Roussel (1960), former deputy press secretary to U.S. President Ronald Reagan and media commentator
- Ashlee Vance (1996), business journalist, author
- Justise Winslow (2014), collegiate basketball player for Duke University and NBA player for the Miami Heat
- 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
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