What began with 45 students in the parish hall of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral (then known as St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church) and a vision for academic excellence has since grown to more than 1,000 students on two campuses and a national reputation as a life-shaping educational experience.
But as much as the school has grown, St. Andrew’s has remained consistent in its approach since that first day in 1947. First and foremost, St. Andrew’s has always been guided by the Episcopal tradition. And while teaching tools have evolved and campuses have expanded, St. Andrew’s commitment to teaching students not what to think but how to think, service to the world beyond the school, and fostering a close-knit community of diverse individuals has never changed.
Founder Sherwood Wise envisioned a school that offered a superior education with individualized attention, as he believed it to be a vital need in Jackson. Soon that dream became reality when, serving on the vestry at St. Andrew's Church, he, along with fellow pioneers Reynolds Cheney, Vincent and Adele Franks, and Minnie Lee Hill, spearheaded the effort to found and open St. Andrew's.
Mrs. Adele Eames Franks was the first Headmistress of the school from 1947 to 1958. An experienced educator, she created the curriculum, hired distinguished faculty, and gave the school direction and purpose. Dubbed "The King" by one of her students, she ruled with a firm, fair, and loving hand.
Over the next few years, St. Andrew’s experienced a boom in enrollment, adding grades each year. In 1955, the National Association of Parish Day Schools named St. Andrew’s a “model school.” Elta Posey Johnston attended St. Andrew’s from 1953-1959, through grade 6, the top grade level at that time. Elta Johnston’s husband, Jim, was one of her St. Andrew’s Lower School classmates. Johnston says, “St. Andrew’s was inclusive, encouraging, and individualized. We had classmates of varying readiness levels. All were accepted and teachers accommodated every child, so that we all progressed and were challenged appropriately. When we graduated from St. Andrew’s, we were way over-prepared for what came next.”
In 1963, St. Andrew’s purchased 14 acres on Old Canton Road and began planning for a new, larger campus. During this time, Green Hall, the former home of Marcellus Green, was used as the schoolhouse until a fire destroyed the home as well as most of the school’s records and artifacts in the spring of 1966. St. Andrew’s finished the year in the parish house of St. James Episcopal Church.
Robert Wise, son of founder Sherwood Wise, says, “Green Hall burned in 1966. My mother announced to me, ‘633 North State is on fire!’ We had to go see it. It was spectacular – as we walked up, flames shot out the roof. Burt Case from Channel 3 was there reporting. While everything was ruined, there was enough left that I recall later walking with my parents into the building and seeing the remains of the small library. I recognized a few of the books on the shelves I had read as a student, mostly biographies. The bindings were charred, some charred black. I felt shock. Fortunately, the school was just completing its new campus, the current Lower School on Old Canton Road. Had the fire happened a few years, even a few months earlier, I can only imagine the disruption would have been incalculable. I’m sure God was looking over St. Andrew’s.”
The 1966-67 school year began on the new campus on Old Canton Road, including a ninth grade. In 1967, St. Andrew’s first Black student DePriest Dockins was admitted. He says, “I was the only person of color in the entire school. I was aware of that, but I never felt ‘different’ because of it, and I can’t recall anyone treating me any differently. It’s funny, because I’m only now, all these years later, realizing how significant it was. That speaks to my parents and their parenting skills, but it also speaks to the fact that no one at St. Andrew's made a big deal of it, and so it just seemed natural. All of my St. Andrew’s memories are good memories. I remember how kind the teachers were and I remember having lots of friends.”
In the 1970s, St. Andrew’s met many milestones - celebrating its 25th anniversary and publishing its first yearbook in 1972, adding a 12th grade which became the first high school graduating class in 1974, and adopting the color blue for the school uniforms when the clothing factory ran out of the green fabric used previously. St. Andrew’s joined the Mississippi High School Activities Association and fielded teams in football, baseball, basketball, track, golf, and tennis.
“When we first started playing football on the South Campus, we’d have to stop traffic on Old Canton to retrieve the ball after we kicked the extra point,” says Andy Mullins, former teacher and first football and tennis coach. “There was a lot of school spirit and we played some great games, but my proudest moment was when St. Andrew’s resisted pressure to join the private school sports association and opted instead to join the Mississippi High School Activities Association. I thought it would benefit our players to play the public schools and see through athletics a little of how kids from all walks of life lived. I loved every moment and every role I played at St. Andrew’s. There was something in every day there that I relished.”
In 1976, St. Andrew’s acquired an option on 75 acres of land in the rural area near Old Agency Road in Ridgeland. Skeptics questioned the wisdom of building a campus so far out in the country. In 1979, St. Andrew’s adopted its school motto, inveniemus viam aut faciemus, which translates as “We will find a way or we will make a way.”
The 1980s held many firsts for the school. In 1981, St. Andrew’s became the first school in the state to offer Advanced Placement courses. The following year, the Honor Code was adopted. Later, St. Andrew’s was the first school in Mississippi to have a Cum Laude chapter and the St. Andrew’s Parents’ Organization presented its inaugural Starry Night gala. In 1985, the Upper School moved to the North Campus in Ridgeland. Former college counselor Mimi Bradley says, “Our early adventures on the North Campus out in ‘rural’ Ridgeland included cows mooing outside the windows and a skunk in the teachers’ lounge. I coaxed the skunk into a Xerox box with an apple and released him back into the wild.”
St. Andrew’s made major advancements in technology in the 1990s as the entire North Campus gained access to the internet in 1995. That same year, the school’s original mission statement was adopted. The campus expanded when the Middle School moved into its new buildings and the Walker Resource Center was built. In 1997 St. Andrew’s celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Over the next 25 years, St. Andrew’s continued to prioritize providing the best educational opportunities to its students. In 2002 and 2003, St. Andrew’s was the first school in Mississippi to go wireless and for students to work on individual laptops. In 2005 after receiving a scholarship endowment from the Malone Family Foundation, the school created Malone Scholarships for academically-gifted students who demonstrated financial need. The scholarship is one of two merit scholarships St. Andrew’s offers prospective students. The Julia Chadwick Arches to Excellence Scholarship was created with similar criteria and a consistent application process. Both scholarships and the school’s robust financial aid make it possible for students to attend St. Andrew's, but also give those students the preparation they need to succeed in college and in life.
Former teacher and head of Upper School Julia Chadwick says, “I am so grateful for my time at St. Andrew’s. I know that it truly made me a better person. I learned to have a worldview, to become a lifelong learner, to be a true advocate for students, to be one that would always try to right a wrong, and to try to always be a servant leader. A good leader has to be willing to do what he/she asks of the faculty, be able to make hard decisions with compassion, be able to gather input from fellow faculty, and be willing to always acknowledge when you are wrong. And above all, I learned that a good leader has to have a great sense of humor.”
In 2007, St. Andrew’s added to its grade levels to include a Pre-K3 section. It also launched its signature Global Studies program. Over the next few years the campus expanded physically through two capital campaigns, adding the McRae Science Center, the Early Childhood Center, and the state-of-the-art Athletics and Recreation Center, all of which provided new and improved spaces for students and faculty. Academics and athletics soared in 2017 and 2018 as a record seven students scored perfect 36s on the ACT and seven athletic teams won state championships.
When COVID-19 closed school campuses nationwide, timely innovative technology upgrades helped St. Andrew’s make the switch to virtual learning in just one week. Despite the challenges of that time, the school saw continued growth as a new program for infants and toddlers, Foundations, opened its doors to 76 students and the Chapel of St. Andrew the Apostle was dedicated to the late Bishop Duncan Gray, Jr. The Chapel provides a sacred place for worship and reflection and serves as a visible landmark of St. Andrew’s Episcopal faith.
Perhaps St. Andrew’s greatest testament and certainly its legacies are the 3,200 alumni who are impacting the world. They can be found at the top of their respective fields locally, nationally, and internationally in medicine, science, research, finance, at the State Department, as entrepreneurs in technology, education, the arts, and as creators, storytellers, preservationists, architects, and developers. What makes them unique goes beyond their work and is more about their hearts and their true desire to be servant leaders.
“I am proud that the school my parents cared for so deeply has done so well,” says Wise. “St. Andrew’s has gained a reputation as not only the best school in the state, but a national reputation as one of the country’s finest secondary schools…Most importantly, truth and honor are expected of every St. Andrew’s student, at a time when truth and honor are at a premium…That care for truth and honor at St. Andrew’s, rooted in the school’s Episcopal tradition, is the real driver of the school’s continued success year after year.”