St. John's School (Texas)

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St. John's School
St. John's School Seal.jpg
United States
MottoFaith and Virtue
Head of SchoolMark Desjardins
Average class size135 (Upper School) 120 (Middle school) 60 (Lower school) 42 (Kindergarten)
Student to teacher ratio7:1 (Upper School)
Color(s)Scarlet and Black
NicknameCrusaders (1946–1949)
Rebels (1949–2004)
Mavericks (2004–present)

St. John's School (also known as St. John's or SJS) is a coeducational independent day 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 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 a handful of highly selective universities.

St. John's is a not-for-profit entity and receives no state or federal funding. Tuition for the 2018–2019 school year is $30,515 for Upper School students (grades 9 through 12), $28,800 for Middle School students (grades 6 through 8), and $25,450 for Lower School students (kindergarten through grade 5).[2] Many students receive partial to full need-based scholarships, as the School has a need-blind admissions policy.[3]

As of June 2018, SJS's endowment is $78,113,000.[4]



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 41 acres (17 ha) of land and educates approximately 1,325 total students supported by over 200 faculty and staff. The School's 41 acres includes 13 acres (the Taub Property) that were purchased in late December 2012 for approximately $90 million. 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.[5]


Mewbourne Hall, Cullen Campus, St. John's School

St. John's 41-acre grounds are located in the central part of Houston, Texas, specifically spanning the Upper Kirby district and the residential neighborhood of River Oaks.

The campus itself 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.

In addition, the school's primary athletic field, Skip Lee Field, and its track are 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 (Finnegan Field and Scotty Caven Field) for field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse.

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.

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.[6]

The school is adjacent to Lamar High School, a public secondary school operated by Houston Independent School District.


College placement[edit]

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[7] and the Top 10 of Liberal Arts Colleges.[8][9]


Lower schools students K-3 have one classroom and teacher and travel as a class to various activities such as library, music, technology lab, science, art, and physical education. All lower school students have a short recess every day. Classes 4 and 5 are introduced to the idea of switching classes, and perform that in a pod-like area. Students travel with their class to the same math, science, and language arts teachers as the rest of the grade. However, the students are introduced to exploring world cultures and history through language arts and writing.

Middle schools students switch classes and follow a carrier schedule. All middle school students begin their day at 8:30 and are dismissed at 3:45. The students are introduced to advisories, as well as picking their fine art study, language, and eventually math. Students in classes 6 and 7 travel to pre-Algebra and Algebra I, English, World Cultures I and II, Life and Earth sciences, language (French, Latin, or Spanish), and Fine art. Class 8 travels to either Geometry and Trigonometry, Physical Applied Mathematics (which if accepted into course takes up math and science carriers), or Algebra II, Physical science or Physical Applied Mathematics, language (French, Latin, and Spanish), US History, English, and Fine art.

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, one year in physical education or sports (as of 2017), and one course credit in the arts (music, visual arts, theater, or dance).[10]

Standardized testing[edit]

The School's data for the SJS Class of 2015 reflects middle 50% SAT scores of 680-790 in Critical Reading, 700-790 in Math, and 690-790 in Writing.[9]

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%.[9] 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.[11] Michael DeBakey High School had the second-highest number of National Merit Semifinalists in the Houston area (20), and Carnegie Vanguard High School had the third-highest percentage of National Merit Semifinalists in the area (15%).[11] The number of St. John's National Merit Semifinalists constituted 25% of all National Merit Semifinalists in the Houston area for 2013-2014.[11]

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.[9]

Students and faculty[edit]

Enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year is 368 for the Lower School, 361 for the Middle School, and 697 for the Upper School.[4] Approximately 13% of students are on scholarship or financial aid.[4] Thirty-three percent of students self-identify as being of color. There are approximately 5,862 living alumni.[4]

The total number of faculty at SJS is 193, 138 of whom have master's or doctorate degrees.[4]

Student life[edit]

House System[edit]

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 completely random, siblings are always assigned to the same House. The Houses are: Chidsey, Winston, Hoodwink, Mulligan, Claremont, and Taub.[citation needed]


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.[12]

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.

Some St. John's sports teams have historically enjoyed success, specifically the cross country, field hockey, and girls' lacrosse teams. Boys' and girls' cross country have combined to win 34 SPC championships; St. John's runners have gone on to compete for highly prestigious collegiate programs such as MIT and Princeton.

In other sports, the girls track and field team won SPC championships in 2010, 2012, and 2013. Wrestling won a trifecta of championships in 2013, 2014 2016, and 2018. Finally, boys track and field won its first SPC championship in over three decades in 2016, beating rival St. Mark's by four points.

St. John's sport program begins as early a Kindergarten and continues Physical Education daily through Class 5. Starting in Class 6, students have the option of sports teams. In Class 6 and 7, athletic participation is required unless explicitly said otherwise. In Class 8, students are required at least two team sports and are allowed one season of strength and conditioning.

St. John's also offers cheerleading. The program features three squads: 8th grade, junior varsity (9th and 10th grades), and varsity (11th and 12th grades). While not fully considered a sport, the upper school cheer teams practice daily and cheer at every football game (home or away) and some home basketball games.

Drum Corps is a musical ensemble that provides spirited entertainment at football games.


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 credit 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.[citation needed]

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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[citation needed]

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.[15]

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. Brooke Wilson. 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.[citation needed]

Student organizations[edit]

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 (, a website featuring news articles, photos and videos and began a Twitter feed, @SJS_Review.

The Review has received national recognition from both the CSPA and National Scholastic Press Association.[citation needed]

The SJS Academic Bowl Team has been a successful quiz bowl team at local, state, and national levels. 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[16]

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 and one or more teachers can be organized into a club, subject to approval by the Dean of Students. Other examples of clubs include sports based clubs (baseball, hockey, soccer, curling), science (Science and Math Club, Faraday), cinematography (MavTV), academic (Speech and Debate Team, Quiz Bowl/Academic Challenge, Mathematical Problem Solving Club), government (Junior Statesmen, Model UN, Young Political Organization), international interests (Spanish Club, Italian Club, International Club), and general interests (Auto club, Anime Club et al.). Interest and activity in clubs varies from year to year.[citation needed]

Drum Corps is a musical ensemble that provides spirited entertainment at football games.

Community service[edit]

Though St. John's does not require community service hours for graduation, the student body boasts almost 100% student participation in community service projects.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed][citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Many Lower School students choose to donate some of their art projects to Texas Children's Hospital each year.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] In Middle School and Upper School, personal service is promoted over monetary donations or drives.[citation needed].

Upper School community service is mostly student-driven.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[17]

Nickname and mascot[edit]

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.[citation needed] "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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] The change was supported by a majority of faculty, though some students and alumni opposed the change.[citation needed] Today, the Maverick nickname is widely used and accepted,[citation needed] 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.[18] In a school-wide pep rally, taking place the day before the annual Kinkaid football game, the Maverick chases a Falcon from the field.

In the media and popular culture[edit]

News stories[edit]

National media reports about selective private schools in the United States have mentioned St. John's. For example, SJS was featured in a story titled "America's Elite Prep Schools."[19] In November 2007, the Wall Street Journal listed St. John's in a chart accompanying an article titled "How to Get into Harvard."[20] 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.

Nationwide rankings of private high schools regularly include St. John's, with recent rankings as follows:

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.[25]


In 1998, Wes Anderson '87 directed the loosely autobiographical Rushmore, a film that he had co-written with a college friend, Owen Wilson, who had attended St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas. In directing the film, Anderson based the fictitious Rushmore Academy on St. John’s. As reported in The Atlantic, "When Wes Anderson scouted locations for the all-boys prep school..., 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."[26] 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.[26]


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. It was announced during July that Clinger would premier in theaters in October.

Notable alumni[edit]


  • 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[33]


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  25. ^ "George W. Bush's Journey: The Cheerleader: Earning A's in People Skills at Andover". Retrieved 2015-05-20.
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  27. ^ "about katherine center « Katherine Center". May 27, 2011. Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
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  30. ^ ""
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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°44′28″N 95°25′42″W / 29.7410°N 95.4284°W / 29.7410; -95.4284