St. George’s Independent School’s mission is distinct: to prepare its students for a life of learning. Boasting an intentionally rigorous academic model, 100% of the school’s students get accepted into a 4-year university, but acceptance isn’t the overall goal. Leaders at the school say they strive to prepare students for success in college, career, and life once they leave their institution.
“We want to ensure that our students are prepared for life after they graduate,” says Lori Williamson, the school’s Chief Academic Officer. “What makes us stand out is the student-centered nature of the school. We have traditional academic expectations, but it’s combined with innovation.”
Lori has worked at the independent Episcopal school for more than 14 years starting off as a part-time first-grade teacher and fill-in music teacher. Within three years she’d moved into an administrative position, as the Student Achievement Coordinator, accessing data and offering new solutions for a more rigorous academic program. She eventually moved up the administrative ladder and now holds the position as Chief Academic Director, a role in which she plays a pivotal part in developing the school’s academic culture.
“I believe that we are the best school because of our quality of teachers and student-focused culture,” she says. “Collaboration with our faculty and students is in the DNA of St George’s.”
St. George’s serves more than 1,200 boys and girls in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade among three campuses. The locations in Germantown and Memphis serve students in grades Pre-K through fifth, while the Collierville campus serves students in middle and high school.
The efforts to cultivate lifelong learners is intentional. Early on, St. George’s students are exposed to a variety of programs and extracurricular activities. In many ways, the Collierville location mimics that of a college campus. For instance, students attend classes for longer hours than most traditional high schools, allowing them to attend only four classes a day. On this rotating schedule that still consists of seven classes, students visit the same class only 3 to 4 times a week with extended hours.
Hallie Gillam, a St. George’s alum, recalls her experience at the school and how it made her transition from high school to college much easier. “The thing that prepared me the most for college is the amount of writing and critical thinking that we did at St. George’s. We wrote a lot and engaged in intense discussions in class,” she explains.
Timothy Gibson, Assistant Head of School for Education Access, works closely with students in helping with college and career counseling. “We have a dynamic quality of teachers who focus on helping our students be their best selves,” he explains. “Students are encouraged to ask difficult questions. Another thing that is key — especially when students go off to college — is that we encourage them to use their resources.”
Hallie, who was a public policy major at the University of Mississippi, is now a first-year law student at Belmont University in Nashville. She credits St. George’s for her preparedness in college. “For high school students, we had a pretty large workload, but we were also provided with the tools to help us handle it,” Hallie shares. “We also had the autonomy to manage our schedules on our own terms. This helped us learn how to manage our time.”
Although the school has a heavy focus on connections with students, time management is at the forefront. Just like most college campuses, students must visit instructors during office hours. “If students have a question or concern, we encourage them to ask their instructors,” Timothy adds. “We don’t want them to wait until the information comes to them, but instead, to seek it out for themselves. Being in an environment where an overwhelming majority of our students will go to college, we recognize the importance of providing them with the tools in high school that will easily translate into college.”
While the academics are a critical component of what makes St. George’s one of the city’s most sought-after independent schools, faculty and students say it’s also about the relationships. “Our school leaders can recognize gifts and talents in students before they recognize it themselves,” Lori shares.
Echoing that sentiment, Hallie recalls a time she wanted to try out pole vaulting, a sport that didn’t exist at the school. “I’d never done it before. No one at the school had ever coached it before, but everyone was super supportive in trying to help me do it. I think that a lot of students can speak to similar experiences,” she explains. “I know many of my friends had very unique niches and things that they wanted to try, and St. George’s helps you cultivate that.”
Lori adds that there is also a heavy focus placed on community and diversity. “If you walk the halls of St. George’s, you will see our students respectfully interacting with one another — collaborating with people who look like them and who don’t look like them, with people who have the same beliefs as them and for those who don’t.”
To schedule a tour or learn more about St. George’s Independent School, visit SGIS.org.
This article is sponsored by St. George’s Independent School.