When the calendar flips to January, Savannah’s parents know it’s crunch time in the school admissions process. To help learn the ABCs of leading local K–12 schools, we’ve compiled a quick guide to the trailblazers and distinct traditions that make each academic community proud.
Compiled by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY & BETTY DARBY
Editor’s note: Information was compiled in November 2022 from questionnaires sent to the schools. Institutions are listed by age. Participation in the questionnaire is optional.
IN 1740, the Rev. George Whitefield founded Bethesda — meaning “house of mercy” — as the first orphanage for struggling young colonists in America. Centuries later, Bethesda has evolved into an independent day school
with tuition paid by all families, accompanied by significant financial aid.
President Mike Hughes, Ph.D., says people are surprised to learn Bethesda is no longer an orphanage and is not a school for those who need “second chances” due to bad behavior. “Graduates go on to study and graduate from fine colleges and have meaningful careers in key organizations such as the Georgia Ports Authority,” Hughes says.
TREASURED TRADITION A gift from the Women’s Board of Bethesda, seniors receive professional attire, including a navy blue blazer and Bethesda tie, and a portable leather travel kit to help prepare them
for college life, interviews and their career.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS Gen. Lachlan McIntosh and Gen. Daniel Stevens for the militia serving in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. In addition, Syd Williams (class of 1927) was an accomplished student-athlete who rose to senior vice president of The Coca-Cola Company, helping to expand the brand worldwide.
FAMILIAR FACE Gary Gatewood grew up at Bethesda and has worked as a maintenance technician at the school for 39 years. In addition to the students, his favorite things about his job are the cattle herd and the 650 oak-covered acres overlooking Moon River.
ST. VINCENT’S ACADEMY
ESTABLISHED IN 1845, St. Vincent’s Academy (SVA) is the oldest Mercy school in the country. The origin story began when the Bishop of Charleston sent three Sisters of Mercy to Savannah to start a school. “We have been operating continuously for 177 years, serving as an orphanage first, then as a day school,” says SVA President Mary Anne Hogan. Students attend classes in a historic, renovated convent.
TREASURED TRADITION “Our school has so many wonderful traditions that support the ‘Sisterhood’ of SVA,” says Hogan. The Junior Ring Ceremony, a Halloween Assembly, Spirit Day and graduation in the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist are among the favorites. However, there is one life skill Hogan says all SVA students should learn before getting their diplomas. “Parallel parking downtown. We don’t have a parking lot!”
NOTEWORTHY ALUM The great Southern author Flannery O’Connor. Her childhood home is a short walk from the school.
FAMILIAR FACE Science teacher Donna Antonucci has been at SVA for more than 25 years.
BENEDICTINE MILITARY SCHOOL
BENEDICTINE COLLEGE — as it originally was called — began as a boys’ preparatory school in 1902 in the Southern military tradition of Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. With a $40 tuition and a requirement of completing 4th-grade grammar school, 21 cadets enrolled in the first year. A member of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB), Bishop Leo Haid founded the school (though the full origin story can be traced back as early as 1874).
Flash forward to 1936: Benedictine’s unprecedented national attention as a day military school to earn an honor unit of distinction prompted the monks to change the name to Benedictine Military School in 1937 — though many people still affectionately use “BC” for short. In 1963, the school moved to its current home on Seawright Drive.
TREASURED TRADITION The Commissioning ceremony occurs at the top of each school year, marking the transition of senior Cadets into positions of leadership within the brigade. Before graduation, another essential experience is marching in the annual Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an enduring tradition since 1903.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS George Karam Gannam, class of 1938, was the first Savannahian to die in World War II. The George K. Gannam Memorial Review, also known as Gannam Day, is a ceremony held on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Staff Sgt. Gannam also played an important role in establishing Benedictine’s publication, The Campus Quill, and served as the editor during his senior year.
FAMILIAR FACE The Rev. Ronald Gatman, OSB, has been a fixture at the school for 44 years and counting.
SAVANNAH COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
ESTABLISHED IN 1955, the strong roots — and reputation — of Savannah Country Day School (SCDS) trace back to the founding of The Pape School in 1905. Today, the campus includes 20 buildings spread across a 65-acre campus.
TREASURED TRADITION To foster the bond between the oldest and youngest students, seniors escort kindergarteners into their first school assembly. In turn, the kindergarten students parade the seniors out of their final school assembly. For their last day of classes, seniors also lead a bike parade to school. Additional can’t-miss milestones include Outward Bound, the 8th grade’s week-long trip in the Florida Everglades, and the Freshman Weekend trip to North Georgia, which signals the kick-off to 9th grade.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS David DiBenedetto, class of 1991, is editor-in-chief of Garden & Gun magazine. Bruce Feiler, class of 1983, is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers, the presenter of two prime-time series on PBS and the inspiration for the drama series “Council of Dads,” which aired on NBC. Sali Sumer Christeson, class of 2003, is the founder and CEO of Argent clothing. Joseph Conyers, class of 2005, is the associate principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
FAMILIAR FACE Bill Eswine was hired as the Lower School science teacher in 1972 and is currently completing his 51st year at SCDS. “There are very few places where you’re given the freedom to do the work you love as I have been at Country Day,” says Eswine. “The value of a great education is not always obvious until years later when you see your former students who understand that being wise requires discipline, that caring for others requires compassion and that we all desire to connect to something beyond ourselves.”
BLESSED SACRAMENT CATHOLIC SCHOOL
FOUNDED BY THE SISTERS OF MERCY in 1939, Blessed Sacrament Catholic School (BSS) sits prominently at the corner of Victory Drive and Waters Avenue. “Our school embraces our location in the center of our vibrant city,” says Brooke Clark, director of communications. “We work in collaboration with many local businesses and organizations. Our students enjoy playing at Daffin Park and can attend many field trips thanks to our convenient location.”
TREASURED TRADITION The school’s faith life drives many of its traditions. In addition, Clark says the students love Field Day, Spirit Week, Catholic Schools Week and the school-wide Buddy Program, where younger students partner with older students to attend monthly Mass and collaborate on service projects.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS “Our school has produced doctors, lawyers, teachers and [businesspeople],” says Clark. “In addition, the foundation at Blessed Sacrament has helped form priests and religious sisters.”
FAMILIAR FACE Jeannie Marlowe has taught at BSS for 44 years. “It is so very special to me that I get to teach the babies of the children I taught,” says Marlowe. “It says a lot when so many people who went to BSS as children bring their own children back.”
SAVANNAH CHRISTIAN PREPARATORY SCHOOL
THE REV. GEORGE and Mrs. Harold Deane Akins first welcomed eight board students to the Evangelical Bible Institute in 1951. Today, the Raiders’ team spirit alludes back to those early years.
“SCPS boarding students became known for sneaking into the kitchen to grab a late-night snack or snag some leftover brownie,” says Becky Thomason, the school’s communications director. “From these incidents, the administration kept referring to the students as ‘raiding’ the kitchen at night. When sports came into the picture, we needed a mascot. It seemed fitting to become the Raiders.”
Situated on Chatham Parkway, the campus offers 119 acres of open-air learning space, including the Ecological Diversity for Educational Networking (EDEN) outdoor education center, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife, hiking trails and wetlands. The campus is also home to a Georgia Historical Society marker as a site of a battle during Gen. William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” (Artifacts have been collected from the school grounds.)
TREASURED TRADITION To honor their senior’s last first day of school, families line the drive onto campus with signs, balloons and photos. “It’s a really special day that families look forward to,” says Thomason, class of 2005.
FAMILIAR FACE Barbara Lanier is in her 51st year at SCPS. “There are so many things I love about Savannah Christian — many of them reflected in the Honor Code: a lifestyle reflecting truth, honor, respect and scholarship,” Lanier says.
ST. PETER THE APOSTLE CATHOLIC SCHOOL
MEANWHILE, TOW SISTERS OF MERCY — Sister Kiernan Davis and Sister Finbarr Kane — opened the Nativity School at Nativity Church in 1951. This set the foundation for a Catholic education for students in the Thunderbolt/Wilmington Island community, which led to St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School, according to Communication Coordinator Ana Portman.
TREASURED TRADITION While the calendar of holiday activities remains robust throughout the year, a key milestone is 8th-grade Confirmation.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS Nora Fleming Lee, who serves as CEO of Coastal Heritage Society, former NFL football player Josh Mallard, Dr. Felix Maher (general dentistry) and Dr. Tonya McCullough (dermatology) are all former pupils.
FAMILIAR FACE Sister Susan Harms is a first-grade teacher and has served the school for 49 years.
HANCOCK DAY SCHOOL
EMMIE RUTH BELL HANCOCK opened Hancock Day School in 1953, beginning with kindergarten and a first-grade class. Her objective? To establish a school where each student could develop and reach the full realization of his or her potential.
Hancock’s son, William Bell, and his wife later managed the school until 2004. Upon the announcement of their retirement and the planned closing of the school, the community formed Parents and Friends of Hancock Inc., a nonprofit organization, to continue the school. A former school property was purchased nearby and is now the current home of Hancock Day School.
TREASURED TRADITIONS Grandparents and Special Friends Day, Halloween Parade and Thanksgiving Feast are among the favorite days of the year.
NOTEWORTHY ALUM Former student Holden Geriner is a quarterback at Auburn University.
FAMILIAR FACE Amy Morgan is the school’s most veteran teacher. “Teaching kindergarten at Hancock has given me the opportunity to spread the joy of learning to many students over the years,” Morgan says.
CALVARY DAY SCHOOL
IN 1959, Dr. John Tippett, along with several involved parents, began planning for a Christian school with a rigorous pursuit of academic excellence. Originally named Calvary Baptist Day School, Calvary launched with 13 kindergarten students. Each year a grade was added until the 1973-1974 school year when Calvary enrolled its first senior class. Today, Calvary’s student body represents more than 100 churches in the Savannah area as a nondenominational Christian school.
TREASURED TRADITION “In the mass of events students look forward to each year, two, in particular, stand out: Homecoming Week and Spiritual Emphasis Week,” says Eden Fussell, communications and marketing content editor. “The camaraderie and support exhibited through both events show Calvary is accomplishing its goals — to grow students into successful, mature [and loving] people.”Fun fact: Retired teacher Marci Hamilton (also the mother of Class of 1980 alumnus and teacher and coach of over 20 years, Jackie Hamilton) penned the school’s alma mater, which was inspired by old hymn music and the school’s faith.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS On the long list of notable names are Swann Seiler, philanthropist, manager of external affairs for Georgia Power’s Southeast Region in Savannah and caretaker of the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot lineage; the late John Davis of John Davis Florist; former MLB pitcher Tyler Bashlor; Judge Rizza O’Connor; Heather Newsome, the assistant chief nursing officer at Memorial Health University Medical Center; Ted Carellas of Carellas Murphy Law LLP and many more.
FAMILIAR FACE Mary Graham is a preschool teacher with 47 years of experience in the Calvary Early Learning Center (ELC). “Her passion for young children stems from the example set forth by the ELC’s founding director, Donna Thaggard,” says Fussell. “She’s watched as generations of Cavaliers have grown up … and has even gotten to teach their children as well.”
MEMORIAL DAY SCHOOL
ALTHOUGH MEMORIAL DAY School was formed in 1971 by the membership of Memorial Baptist Church, the school has operated as a nondenominational Christian school since its beginning.
TREASURED TRADITIONS During “Family Feast,” more than 400 members of the community gather for a traditional Thanksgiving-style lunch. Additional family-oriented events include the Junior Ring Ceremony and the Baccalaureate Ceremony to celebrate graduating seniors before graduation.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS A few recognizable names include actor Marshall Hilliard, Dawn Odom, who serves as principal of St. Vincent’s Academy, and Chatham Fire Chief Wayne Noha.
FAMILIAR FACE Pam Gross is not only a 30-year member of the faculty, but she also graduated from Memorial Day School, and her mother, Tammy Rowell, was the first head of school.
ST. ANDREW’S SCHOOL
DURING THE 1970s, the governing body of the Independent Presbyterian Church determined Savannah needed another quality college preparatory school. Business leaders and parents worked together to secure a site for a new campus and to raise money for the buildings. According to Director of Public Relations Scott Searcy, the school’s new name, St. Andrew’s on the Marsh, reflected its Scottish heritage and the island setting. The church agreed to relinquish the school so that it could become an independent, nonprofit institution governed by a board of trustees.
In 2011, St. Andrew’s unveiled a redesigned logo to underscore the school’s identity. “It is that independence from the curricular mandates of the state or a religious institution that has enabled us to become leaders in teaching and learning,” says Searcy.
TREASURED TRADITIONS Each student is placed into one of six Scottish clans and participates in the annual Scottish Games. The winning clans are rewarded with ribbons, which are proudly added to the clans’ tartans and flags hanging in the cafeteria. To further foster a sense of belonging, each student is assigned into groups of three — representing a partnership of a Lower, Middle and Upper School student. “Partners meet throughout the year to create a secret handshake, share a book, be a friend or mentor and look out for each other,” adds Searcy. Last but not least, every senior class plants a flowering crepe myrtle tree on campus, signifying their individual contribution to the school’s legacy — a theme that carries into a personalized commencement ceremony. “Each graduate takes center stage while we read their student biography and share where they will matriculate to college,” says Dr. Kelley Waldron, head of school. “[It] reflects the individualized approach we take to supporting each of our students as they become successful young adults, ready to take on college and life with the confidence that they are well-prepared and loved.”
NOTEWORTHY ALUM Philip Rucker, valedictorian of the Class of 2002, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the first recipient of St. Andrew’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017.
FAMILIAR FACE Nancy Beckmann, a 2nd-grade teacher, has over 30 years of employment at SAS.
CHATHAM ACADEMY was founded in 1978 by a group of parents and concerned citizens who realized the need to have a school for students with learning disabilities. Carolyn Hannaford was the first Head of School and continued to grow the school for 43 years prior to her retirement in 2020. “Many people don’t know there is a specialized school in our area designed to meet the needs of students with learning differences like dyslexia and ADHD,” says Director of Development, Guieneverre Cutlip.
From day one, Cutlip says students realize learning can be different when it is done in a welcoming environment designed to fit their individual needs. “Our students learn how to accept their strengths and weaknesses, [how] to advocate for themselves with confidence. They will know how to do hard things.”
TREASURED TRADITION “Field Day! Parents and alumni always come to volunteer and cheer on the teams.”
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS “Our graduates have gone on to become business owners, coaches, movie extras, work at Disney in Hong Kong, and one recently passed the Bar exam!”
FAMILIAR FACES Principal Cherie Pelli and Coach Joe Levan both enrolled in the 1994-1995 school year and remain an integral part of the school.
THE HABERSHAM SCHOOL
IN 2012, a number of devoted parents sought to establish a new, full-day, classical Christian school for the greater Savannah area. According to Chaston Hart, the director of marketing and development, the school’s name and mascot are a nod to one of Savannah’s most notable colonial citizens, James Habersham. “A man of deep spiritual convictions, Habersham is known for his time spent as a schoolteacher, businessman and acting governor of Georgia,” says Hart. “Although he found great success in his business and political careers, it was his work in the founding of Bethesda that prompted our founders to name the school for him. Habersham was an American Patriot in the Revolutionary War. As such, we are the Habersham Patriots.”
TREASURED TRADITIONS Students from every grade level are sorted into one of four houses: House of Washington, House of Pulaski, House of Madison, and House of Lafayette. Upper School students who apply and interview for positions each spring are selected as House leaders. In these positions, students are trained and mentored alongside faculty advisors as all students compete to earn the coveted House Cup. Students lead their fellow House members through three key events: Feast Day in November, the Sidewalk Arts Festival in March and House Olympics in May.
NOTEWORTHY ALUM Sam Parker, Class of 2021, is attending the University of Georgia with an athletic scholarship for swimming.
SAVANNAH-CHATHAM COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
AS THE 10TH LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICT in Georgia, Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools (SCCPSS) enrolls more than 35,000 students across 55 schools. To provide students with a diverse portfolio of educational options best suited to their interests and abilities, SCCPSS offers 26 Choice Programs throughout the district. Programs begin in elementary school and continue through high school, with options varying from Heard Elementary, the first STEAM-certified school in the Southeast, to Savannah Arts Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, which is consistently named in US News and World Report’s “Best Schools” issue. The application window is open online at sccpss.com between Jan. 21 – Feb. 3, 2023 for the upcoming school year.
TREASURED TRADITIONS The history of SCCPSS spans more than a century, with Beach High School being one of the oldest schools in the district. The uninitiated may assume the name refers to Savannah’s proximity to the coast, while in reality, the namesake is Alfred Ely Beach. He is known for his donation to establish the Beach Institute, a school for newly freed slaves to learn a trade and have a job in the post-Civil War era. SCCPSS took over the reins of the school in 1915. Today, a highlight of the commencement ceremony is the Alumni Oath. Last year, Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Broad, Savannah Chatham County School Board District 2 Representative and former Beach High student, led graduates in the tradition.
According to Stacy Jennings, director of communications at SCCPSS, there is another quintessential thing that SCCPSS graduates should have. “Life experience that leads to self-fulfillment. Every student wants a life as a productive citizen. Every student deserves the opportunity to become their very best self,” says Jennings. “As our superintendent is fond of saying, ‘Every scholar needs a job.’ We want our scholars to be employed, enlisted, enrolled or entrepreneurs.”
With an aviation and aircraft maintenance pathway offered in partnership with Gulfstream, Groves High School exemplifies these words in action. “The same with Georgia Ports, Georgia Power and JCB,” says Jennings. “All have benefited from the Logistics pathway at several of our high schools.”
Of note, Woodville Tompkins Technical & Career High School boasts a 100% graduation rate for six years running. Savannah Early College High School also has a 100% graduation rate, and provides students with the potential to earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of transferable college credit toward a bachelor’s degree.
As for families who are indeed seeking a school on the beach, turn to Tybee Island Maritime Academy (TIMA). “Tybee Island didn’t have a public school for 25 years after Tybee Elementary closed in the late ‘80s,” says Peter Ulrich, principal administrator at TIMA. “When the private school St. Michaels closed in 2011, the community wanted a school back on the island.” TIMA opened as a charter school in 2013, marking its 10th anniversary this year with the graduation of its first 8th-grade class. As the only school in the state of Georgia promoting high academic achievement through a maritime, career-focused, project-based curriculum, that also means that flip-flops are on the supply list, and recess happens on the beach.
Savannah Classical Academy (SCA) is also celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023. The creation of the school was a grassroots effort by local residents, donors and Roger Moss, the incoming president of the SCCPSS board. As a charter school, SCA provides a free education to any student living in Chatham County and part of SCCPSS, with admissions received by an online lottery. Check schools’ individual websites for deadlines and more information.
NOTEWORTHY ALUMS In addition to Hoskins-Broad, notable names who have passed through SCCPSS include, but are not limited to: Camille Syed, multimedia journalist at WTOC (Islands); Cliff McCurry, director of Community Development at Sterling Seacrest Pritchard (Savannah High); Dr. David Bringman, professor at Georgia Southern University and SCCPSS District 6 school board member (Beach); Judge Lisa Colbert (Groves); Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court (Savannah High); MiQuan Green, photographer and entrepreneur (Groves); Pervis Ellison, former NBA basketball player (Savannah High); Rear Adm. Susan Bryer Joyner (Jenkins).
(Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly repeated the noteworthy alums of Calvary Day School for Memorial Day School.)