5 things you didn’t know about TOM SHEPPARDBy NIKKI ROWELL,
He was born and raised in a small village in Hawaii. He says he is a passionate bass fisherman. Looking back, one of his top educational experiences was playing high school football. Although he holds a
leadership position, he is naturally an introvert. This is the first year of his adult life that he hasn’t lived on a school campus.
Born and raised in a small ranch town in Hawaii, Tom Sheppard was first introduced to the world of education through his parents, who worked at a school there.
Sheppard now serves as the Head of School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
“Without me even knowing it, that upbringing in Hawaii was very unique, but it introduced me to many different cultures,” he said. “Which then, in my professional life, led me around the world every year for weeks on end.”
Education has taken him to many countries, including China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.
Before coming to St. Andrew’s, Sheppard worked for boarding schools across the country, from Pebble Beach, California, to Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
“In my roles at those schools, I would travel the country and the world to introduce the schools to prospective students and their parents,” he said.
His latest adventure has been his role of Head of School.
“For me, it’s one more adventure,” Sheppard said. “It’s a natural extension of things I’ve been doing my whole life. For me, there’s always an opportunity to experience something new and to learn from things that might not be familiar to you.”
Sheppard said moving to Mississippi has allowed him to do just that.
He now spends his days working to continue the excellence of St. Andrew’s and finding ways to better reach the school’s mission, which is: “To nurture a diverse community in the Episcopal tradition, fostering spiritual growth, moral responsibility, academic excellence and artistic and athletic pursuits, while preparing for a life of service to our community and the world.”
“What I immediately sensed here is a strong commitment to the school’s mission, and that is, to me, is the most important piece,” Sheppard said. “St. Andrew’s knows what it does well, believes in it and always wants to do better.”
Sheppard said that is the most important component of building and maintaining a healthy school.
Every day, Sheppard keeps each element of the school’s mission in mind and works to fulfill it.
“Then, you entrust very talented administrators and teachers to do their part in that and provide students with the education they deserve,” Sheppard said.
This month marks one year that Sheppard has worked with St. Andrew’s.
“It’s been exhilarating,” he said. “I’ve always felt like I’m someone who works hard, just as a rule of thumb, but it’s the most demanding job I’ve ever had. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s the most complex job I’ve ever had.”
But he said his job doesn’t actually feel like work.
“When you get to be around 1,140 well-intentioned kids and teachers who care, it’s a joy,” he said. “And the parents who support them along the way and make it all possible. It’s a community. It’s not just coming to a job.”
The school boasts a 100 percent graduation rate. In addition, Sheppard said 100 percent of St. Andrew’s graduates go on to four-year universities, unless they take a gap year.
“And they’re going off to the universities that are right for them,” he said.
Approximately 40 percent of St. Andrew’s graduates attend universities in Mississippi. The other 60 percent leave Mississippi to attend universities all over the country.
“That’s the beauty of this is helping them find a place where they can continue their education where they’re well-prepared based on the experience they had at St. Andrew’s,” he said.
That is why Sheppard said the mission of St. Andrew’s is so important. Faculty, staff and administration take great care to provide that educational foundation that allows St. Andrew’s students to thrive long after they have graduated.
The focus is not just on academic excellence, but encouraging students to develop spiritually, artistically and athletically.
The school recently underwent the process of creating their vision for the future.
“It simply states that in 2021, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a beacon of educational, innovation, wellness and inclusivity, empowering generations of Saints to impact the world,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard added that they are working to implement programs to help reach that vision.
“We will be building out a whole curricular initiative around innovating in education,” he said. “It’s a way of getting us to look at where we are and how we can continue to provide the very best education our kids deserve.”
He said the inclusivity and wellness pieces are equally important.
“The reality of it is, the reason you are a successful adult has little to do with grades and test scores you earned along the way,” he said. “It has much more to do with the whole series of characteristics that fall under the rubric of social and emotional learning.”
Grit, resilience, collaboration and teamwork are all qualities that the school hopes to help better develop in its students.