St. John Announces Retirement at EDS
Episcopal Day School headmaster Jay St. John is now looking for his second act.
Last week, St. John announced that he will resign as headmaster at the end of the school year to pursue other career ventures. He emphasized that his decision to leave was based on his desire to seek new direction in his life.
“The gift of a new kidney — that changes your priorities,” he said. “I’ve been here seven years, and that’s a long run for a head. Things change. No one thing said I had to make this move.”
He added that he made the decision now because he feels that the school is in a good position for such a transition.
“The good thing about EDS right now is this is an extremely strong board,” St. John said. “The faculty, from top to bottom, is absolutely first-rate, and the kids are great. Whoever comes into this situation is going to be very fortunate. It’s a great school. It’s a fun school.”
When talking about his resignation, St. John referenced a discussion he had recently with his friend, Sandhills Community College Presi-dent John Dempsey, about author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line: “There are no second acts in American lives.”
“We both agree that Fitzgerald had a great line, but it was completely wrong!” he said with a laugh. “I would like to disprove that. After 40 years in education, let’s see if I can do something else.”
As he prepares to leave the school, St. John said he is trying to keep his options open.
He said he is mulling over taking a position as a consultant with Child Lures Prevention, a national organization that works to prevent crimes against children through education and awareness in the United States and abroad, or taking on a one-year position as an interim headmaster at a different school.
St. John said he would like to stay in Southern Pines, but he is open to the idea of relocating as well, as long as “it’s east of the Mississippi,” since his daughter, Kate, is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“But Europe is also east of the Mississippi!” he added, laughing.
St. John and his family moved to Southern Pines from Florida in 1999 to become headmaster of The O’Neal School. He took over at EDS in 2004.
“In a perfect world, we’d stay here,” he said. “My guess is that we’ll retire here. This is the place that [my wife,] Beth and I have really grown to love.”
For many in the EDS community, the feeling is mutual.
Donna Carter, chairwoman of the EDS board of trustees, called St. John a “fantastic headmaster and a faithful supporter of Episcopal Day School” who will be missed.
She added that because of the board’s strong working relationship with St. John, it has been able to implement a new strategic plan in the last year that is helping EDS move forward.
A letter sent to families from the board of trustees read: “The departure of Jay at the end of the school year is a bittersweet event. We will miss him, but we all wish him the best for whatever path he chooses to follow. ... Finding someone to fill his shoes will be no easy task.”
The board also thanked St. John for giving “sufficient notice” to allow it time to find a “competent replacement.”
Carter said that though a search committee for a new headmaster has yet to be formed, the board looks forward to involving the community and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in the process.
St. John expressed gratitude from the support he has had from community over the years. In 2009, he said he was amazed to see so many people support him when he was in need of a kidney transplant.
After years of illness and six months of dialysis, St. John received a kidney from Jonathan Brower, husband of former Emmanuel Episcopal Church associate rector Meaghan Kelly.
Before Brower was identified as a match, St. John said a former student and a former colleague from his former school in Florida were willing to give him a kidney, but neither was a direct match.
“Then out of the blue, Jonathan Brower comes forward, and we’re an exact match!” he said with tears welling in his eyes. “You can’t make that up!”
From that experience, St. John said he took away a broader perspective on the rewards of being an educator.
“The blessings of a career in education, to me, are really about delayed gratification,” he said. “You see the kids grow and graduate over the course of their life, but then, you see what happens when they’re adults and it’s really remarkable. There are few fields other than education where you get that.”
He rattled off the names of various teachers he had throughout his education who made a difference in his life.
“All those people had a tremendous impact on me,” he said. “And I hope that the future of education will see that teachers continue to have a positive impact on the development of our students.”
St. John has taught and served as headmaster at various independent schools over his 40 years in education, serving 23 as headmaster.
After graduating from Boston University in 1971 with a degree in early childhood education and political science, St. John skipped graduate school to become a world history teacher and coach at the Fessenden School, an independent day and boarding school in Massachusetts.
St. John said he always felt more drawn to independent education because schools were smaller and maintained local control over curriculum and education standards.
“[Public schools] were just so big,” he said. “There were so many kids. I couldn’t quite see the results. In an independent school, I felt you could really practice your craft.”
The most significant piece that he has taken from all of his schools has been the emphasis on developing character.
“Most schools that I’ve been in have had a tremendous sense that character education counts and has a lasting impact on a child,” he said.
He said that at EDS, character development starts in chapel, sacred studies and continues on into the classroom as teachers recognize students for being responsible and exemplifying leadership.
Though he is unsure of what will come at the end of the year, St. John is confident he will land on his feet.
“I feel that over this career, I’ve had to be open to a lot of things, and I want to continue to be open,” he said. “I’d like to work for a few more years, but I’d also like to eventually retire. I feel I’ve been given the gift of a new kidney, and I want to travel with my wife and do things. I feel I’ve worked a long time.”
St. John says he feels nothing but gratitude for his career in education and that EDS was part of it for the last seven years.
“I’ll be taking away experiences watching children grow, a sense of accomplishment that hopefully I’m leaving this school better than I found it — that’s always been a goal — and being a part of a very caring community, not just at EDS but in Southern Pines,” he said.
St. John credited the efforts of other educational leaders in the community who have also worked to make education in the area stronger, and he hopes that as he leaves EDS that tradition of working together to build a strong educational foundation will continue.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. “If every school in this community is strong, then people are going to want to be here. I hoped that I’ve helped with that."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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