The Cadet Chapel, The Episcopal Diocese of West TN, and SGIS

United States Air Force Academy Chapel
United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel (photograph by J. Ross Peters)

On Monday the Diocese of West Tennessee and St. George’s Independent School (SGIS) announced their renewed partnership. Below I have copied the letter to the Diocese from The Right. Rev. Don E.  Johnson, Bishop of West Tennessee, as well as my letter to the SGIS community. As I was drafting my letter I found myself reflecting on our family’s visit to the United Stated Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs a few years ago. The connection in my mind between the Cadet Chapel and our relationship with the Episcopal Church is partly circumstantial–it was three summers ago that we visited my sister and brother in law, as well as their three children in Colorado Springs where my brother in law served as the Air Force Band Commander, and while enjoying new summertime adventures I often look back on past ones. However, there is more to the connection as well…

The Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel is a stunning space. Unmistakeable as a place of worship, it does not look like any other place of worship I have seen or heard of in the world. Bathed in blue light, the sanctuary calms and centers its visitors, as well, I am certain, as the generations of cadets who have sought solace there. One reason my thoughts drifted back to it is that I realize I wish for our students a similar spiritual solace and comfort in the face of challenge that the Cadet Chapel provides. The world we ask young people to enter is difficult; it is confounding; it is often disappointing. The world we ask young people to enter has always been so. The world we ask young people to enter today seems particularly torn and frayed. What we strive to give our students at SGIS–regardless of where they find themselves on their spiritual journeys–is both the comfort that faith can offer, as well as the challenge it provides to live lives of service to others grounded within faith in something greater than themselves alone. The Cadet Chapel sends this message.

United States Air Force Academy
United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel (photograph by J. Ross Peters)

In architectural form it communicates the priorities that I believe should accompany our school’s work as an Episcopal School. By design and function it welcomes people of all faith backgrounds–it embodies the idea that all of us are children of God. For all the community, national, and world problems that await the next generation of students, they will also enter a world rife with opportunity–opportunity to contribute, to design, to make, to serve, and to lead. In order to take on the roles we wish for them as adults, I hope our school can help them grasp both the comfort and challenge of faith.

United States Air Force Academy Chapel
United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel (photograph by J. Ross Peters)


Letter to the SGIS Community
Letter to the SGIS Community


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Letter from The Rgt. Rev. Don E. Johnson, Bishop of West Tennessee
Letter from The Rgt. Rev. Don E. Johnson, Bishop of West Tennessee

Mutuality and Ascendent Partnerships

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“We recognize what has always been true, if often dismissed–that is, that we exist in a web of mutuality.”

[Several years ago, I wrote about the role of partnerships in schools. Below the brackets is part of what I wrote. I am struck with the ongoing relevance of this kind of thinking and of the strategic necessity of creating and maintaining partnerships. On Saturday, St. George’s partnered with the Wolf River Conservancy and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to provide a family day on the Wolf River hosted at St. George’s. It was great to see so many people experience for the first time our outstanding setting along the Wolf and our unique access to Mid South wetlands. We have also developed an unprecedented relationship with City Leadership and Serve9o1 in a space we are calling the St. George’s Bunkhouse in the Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood–you can read about that partnership HERE

What is happening through such partnerships pulls our school into the community from which it draws families, and it pulls the community to us. Through partnership we become a good neighbor, and we become aligned with the best ambitions of our city, county, and area. We recognize what has always been true, if often dismissed–that is, that we exist in a web of mutuality. For too long independent schools risked becoming artifacts of separation, virtually stiff arming the outside world–in so doing they risked underserving both students and the community. That coin can and should flip.

There are many institutions and non-profits thinking in similar ways about the importance of partnerships in the Memphis area. A couple come to mind first for me though there are, of course, many more. Rhodes College has made a priority of being a valuable neighbor through the Bonner Center for Faith and Service. In this work Rhodes has become a national leader. In a different context the amazing redevelopment of the old Sears building into the Crosstown Concourse, is at the forefront of creating connections between everything from housing, healthcare, wellness, retail, education, and office space. The most exciting forces–in education, in the non-profit, and in the for-profit world–are thinking big about how partnerships can weave the fabric of the city into something stronger, more inclusive, and more sustainable. Notably, the areas largest banks, First Tennessee and Regions, are focused on this work as well as expressed through their thoughtful deployment of Community Reinvestment Funds. In short, they recognize the power of betting on Memphis and Shelby County. They too realize that we are in a web of mutuality and that the generations to come will be at risk if we allow the constituents parts of the community drift too far apart now.]   

Design Rendering of the C
Design Rendering of the Crosstown Concourse from

From 2012…”Partnerships. Local ones, international ones, public-private ones, online ones.  Partnerships between schools, between teachers, between academic departments, between students, between teachers and students, between the school and students, between the school and parents, between the school and the community in which it exists.  More and more the value of partnerships is finding its way into the identities and the realities of schools. Some partnerships are making their way from the co-curriculum into the curriculum, while others are pulling our schools and some of our students’ learning out of the classroom and into the world.

I have written often in “Ross All Over the Map” about the importance of creating a Progress Culture in schools, and of late I have been constantly reminded that partnerships will be a cornerstone of establishing, maintaining, and expanding such a culture. I am struck with the realization that the schools best able to nurture these partnerships (rather than just accumulate them) will be positioned to give their students the most meaningful and sustainable experiences.”

St. George’s and Serve901: A New Partnership to Meet an Old Need

JSt. George's Junior Alton Stovall, CEO of City Leadership John Carroll, yadayada, and Head of Serve901 Jeff Riddle gather to see and discuss the shared space at ADDRESS
St. George’s Junior Alton Stovall, John Carroll/Executive Director City Leadership, Shelby Smith/City leadership, and Jeff Riddle/Coordinator of Serve901

[Last night we sent a letter to the St. George’s Independent School community about a new, and I think, unprecedented partnership with Serve901 to share space and to create service learning experiences for our students. Serve 901 is an initiative of Memphis’s City Leadership, which also supports the vibrant and successful Choose901 campaign. I will let the press release below describe the relationship; however, it is worth noting here that I believe that this sort of partnership is exactly the direction great schools should be going to best underpin their academic, athletic and other co-currcular programming. We are not just seeking to graduate students who know things…we are seeking to graduate students who make something valuable from knowledge and experience. We are not just charged to graduate students headed toward successful professions…we wish for them, and the communities in which they will live and serve, engaged lives. In order to create this type of school, we want as an institution to focus on things greater than ourselves, so that our students will become people who live lives of contribution, meaning, and impact. Our partnership represents a new answer to meet an old need. Our city has always needed people ready to listen and to learn, ready to serve.] 

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January 29, 2016
Contact: Sarah Cowan
St. George’s Independent School
901-261-2390 / cell: 901-494-4777 /

St. George’s and Serve901 Forge Unique Partnership Affiliation Provides Shared Space and Programming

Memphis, TN — St. George’s Independent School and City Leadership today announced an exclusive joint partnership to support service learning and community engagement in Memphis through collaboration with the Choose901campaign and Serve901 program. While the partnership is multi-faceted, the most visible aspect of the relationship will be newly renovated shared space at 815 N. Mclean Blvd. in the Vollintine/Evergreen neighborhood.

Named the “St. George’s/Serve901 Bunkhouse,” the facility will include bunks for more than 100 people, as well as common areas. For Serve901, a program that curates service experiences with college students to understand and serve Memphis and logged 7248 volunteer hours from 434 participants in 2015, the space will enable program growth. St. George’s constituents will be able to use the facility for a variety of purposes including alumni events, meetings, or class, club or team retreats.

“Both Serve901 and St. George’s need a place like the Bunkhouse, but neither organization would use it every day of the year. Creating this space together and sharing it is such a great investment of maximizing resources,” noted John Carroll, Executive Director of City Leadership.

Equally significant, the affiliation will include a four-year programming partnership in which Serve901 staff will collaborate with SGIS faculty and students to create outstanding year-round learning experiences, from summer camps to “deep dive” leadership opportunities for middle and upper school students.

“The partnership between St. George’s and Serve901 is a natural fit all around. With a long track record of being focused on things greater than ourselves alone and a commitment to preparing our students for college and life, we look forward to broadening our efforts to provide compelling service and leadership experiences for our students,” said Ross Peters, St. George’s Head of School. “Our collaboration with Serve901 is a manifestation of our desire to serve our students by showing them how they might serve our city.”

About St. George’s Independent School

St. George’s Independent School is a college preparatory school in the Episcopal tradition of education that is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, preparing students for a life of learning and meaningful contribution in an inclusive learning community that nurtures outstanding academic achievement, relationships, leadership, and character reinforced by Judeo-Christian values.

About City Leadership
City Leadership exists to recruit, develop, & catalyze leaders for the benefit of the city of Memphis. City Leadership was founded in 2008 in order to maximize the leadership capital and potential of Memphis.

About Serve901
Serve901 curates service experiences with college students to understand and serve with Memphis.



Ready to be Part of “What’s Next” in Memphis

Poster from TEDxMemphis 2015
Poster from TEDxMemphis 2015

Several years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “Preparing our Students to be Community Leaders: An Initial Brainstorming.” After attending TEDxMemphis this weekend, I remembered the piece because I was reminded again and again during the TED talks of the vital importance of developing an interest in civic engagement and community leadership in our students. My thinking crystallizes in this thought: if we want our students to become civically engaged, community leaders as adults, our schools must be civically engaged. We must demonstrate as institutions the skills and priorities we want our students to learn within our curriculum and extra curriculum.

Here in part is what I wrote in December 2011:

“If we want to prepare students to be community leaders with qualities such as humility, decisiveness, passion, vision, and empathy, what should schools do to place their work developing those skills in greater relief? If successful leaders need skills such as the ability to take an unpopular stand, mobilize support for a shared goal, and remain undeterred by setbacks, what do schools need to do to develop those abilities in students?

First thoughts:

  • Help students learn about the larger community in which they live.
  • Balance opportunities for students to serve, study, learn and contribute in their own communities with similar opportunities in environments that are different than their own.
  • Engage students in learning that connects them to real-world issues.
  • Identify areas in the curriculum where connections to real-world issues already exist implicitly and make those connections more explicit.
  • Put students in the position to apply their intellectual abilities to discover issues facing their local community (or the world community).
  • Put students in the position of finding and proposing solutions to those issues.
  • Give students demanding and ongoing experiences working in groups facing complex tasks.
  • Hold students accountable for their ability to express a cohesive, articulate, and knowledgeable viewpoint to a group of people.

I just had lunch with a colleague from another school, and our conversation circled this topic and how we might be able to push our respective schools toward better and better work in this area. The last National Association of Independent Schools Conference focused on public purpose in private education, and I have struggled ever since with how to envision what a big step forward might look like. That said, I believe we need to be bold in this area—our students need to know the central issues facing the communities in which they live (beyond the narrow confines of their own particular zip code), and they need to learn the skills that will allow them to exert their voices in the conversations about those issues.”

After TEDxMemphis I find myself renewed in my commitment to this vital area of work in schools, and I am particularly inspired as I take my first steps in a new community–the St. George’s Independent School Community–which has such a relevant role to play in this work in a city that needs all good hands on deck. 

It is going to be an exciting time to be a part of this school and a member of the Memphis community.