Mission & Vision
The founding purpose of Presbyterian School, established in 1989, was and remains to provide families with a “Christ-centered learning environment in which the total family will experience support and growth.” For more than three decades, Presbyterian School has fostered the unique and wonderful mixture of intellect, emotion, talent, and spirit in children while challenging them to become caring, compassionate citizens of their School, family, community, and world.
That children should be educated in an environment integrating the three major institutions in their lives (the Family, the School, and the Church) is counter-cultural today. However, that was the simple and essential message of the School at its founding, and this mission still guides us in powerful ways here in the first part of the 21st Century.
Anchored in this mission, children at Presbyterian School develop to their fullest potential - intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually - in a supportive and challenging environment. Students are treated as individuals of worth and are encouraged to develop a sense of responsibility in relation to God, to others, to the world in which they live, and, ultimately, to themselves. The School's program is rooted in 21st Century skills and habits of mind that appeal to a diversity of learners who acquire these skills and habits in different ways and at different rates. Talented and caring teachers regularly assess each child's development and, drawing upon their own acumen and experiences, employ those techniques most likely to touch and inspire individual learners.
Parents are vital to any child’s development, so Presbyterian School offers parent education programs designed to help parents understand the 21st Century’s exciting educational milieu. At the same time and using Christian principles, the School’s programs also support parents through the moral and spiritual dilemmas facing families today as well as with timeless issues faced by all parents throughout the ages.
Finally, Presbyterian School seeks to help its students understand and believe, at the simplest yet deepest level, that God loves them unconditionally. Children of all races, ethnic groups, and religious backgrounds are welcome and will be encouraged to develop their spiritual identities and their love of God in a Christ-centered environment.
We are a school that believes in the clarity of our mission, identity, and vision and that who we are and what we do is captured succinctly and purposefully in the phrase: Confidence in every Child. Our students will come to anticipate—even welcome—the next challenge with energy, acuity, and confidence. Along the way each will come to appreciate that, by accepting the challenges of going too far—to paraphrase T.S. Eliot—one discovers how very far one can go.
Since our founding, Presbyterian School has grown from 75 students to 650; from fewer than 50 families to more than 450; from having our oldest students as three-year-olds to our oldest students as thirteen-year-olds; from a faculty of fewer than 20 to a faculty of more than 130; from a Church investment of $100,000 to an independent operating budget exceeding $15 million.
The dream that is now Presbyterian School was first articulated in the mid-1980s by Dr. Jack Lancaster, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church from 1961 to 1990. After expanding the Church’s facilities to include a new Christian Education wing, Dr. Lancaster approached longtime FPC member Martha Erwin, who was at the time leading a young married couples’ Sunday School class called the “Carpenter’s Class.” During this conversation, Dr. Jack (as he was more affectionately known) suggested to Martha that Houston needed a “Christ-centered, academically challenging” school. Martha agreed and began circulating the idea among the members of her class. Soon after this conversation, a School Study Committee was formed in 1986. Mr. Eugene H. Vaughan, Jr. led the Committee that ultimately evolved into Presbyterian School’s first Board of Trustees.
“As a Committee, we became aware of the potential power of providing a true early childhood education in a Christian context,” said Mr. Vaughan. “The key questions were these: How early could we start in terms of the age of the child? How could we encourage parents to be uniquely involved? Whom would we hire to share this dream as a Founding Head of School?”
An intensive nationwide search led the Committee to Dr. Betty Baxter. A national expert on early childhood education, Dr. Baxter shared the principles upon which the School was to be built and believed this to be a key factor in Presbyterian School’s strong start. “I believed then and still believe in the development of the whole human being socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, spiritually,” said Dr. Baxter. “I believe parents are the most influential ‘first teachers’ in a child’s life, and that parents, school, and church must work together to maximize a child’s potential.”
Presbyterian School enthusiastically opened its doors to 75 new students ages two through five (Kindergarten) on August 18, 1989, with a plan to add an additional grade each year thereafter through the fifth grade. On that first day of school, Dr. Baxter stood at the door and greeted each student, at his or her eye level, with a handshake and a smile.
In 1997, the School’s Board of Trustees approved planning for a Middle School, and construction on the Lancaster Center, named for the Church’s now Pastor Emeritus, began in 1998. Then Head of School, Ellen Welsh, Board Chair, Carlton Wilde, and Board President, Kim Sterling, played key roles in realizing that objective. “Our goal was to create a school home for middle school age students that would be strong and invigorating in terms of how it serves all of our children,” said Dr. Welsh. “We wanted to build on the concepts of personalization, parent participation, conversation and civility, and an evolving criteria of intelligence.” In August of 2000 the Middle School opened with 67 students in fifth and sixth grades, and in June of 2003 the first class of eighth grade students graduated from Presbyterian School.
As the school continued to grow, the need for additional green space soon became apparent. In 2005, a 14-acre property located just south of the Texas Medical Center on Highway 288 was purchased in order to build the School’s Outdoor Education Campus (OEC). The School motto, “As children of God at Presbyterian School, we respect ourselves, each other, and the environment,” served as a compelling vision for the design of the OEC. “While our children can learn about the importance of conservation and environmental science in the classroom, not all learning can take place indoors. To learn about the great outdoors, students need to be outdoors,” said then Head of School, Raymond E. Johnson. In Spring 2008 the OEC officially opened with a pavilion, outdoor education area, two regulation size athletic fields, an eight-lane track, cross country trail, outdoor chapel, nature garden areas, and rolling hills to serve students in environmental learning, athletics, play and outdoor worship.
In 2009, Dr. Mark Carleton became the Head of Presbyterian School and encouraged continued growth of the School with a new vision for innovation, critical and creative thinking, and preparation for an entirely new and dynamic world. The student population, academic programs, and athletic offerings expanded. Both the main campus and the OEC became wireless facilities to support an increase in new technologies including iPads, laptops, digital projectors, Smart Boards, and Apple TV. Other areas of the School including academic enrichment, fine arts, health and wellness, and servant leadership also grew and became more well-defined. Fine arts classes such as photography and sketching at the MFAH, and wellness electives such as Biomechanics and Worldviews were added to the core schedule for seventh and eighth grade students. Targeted and consistent servant leadership opportunities were established through Panther Patrol, student recycling, and specific grade level projects.
Dr. Carleton shares, “As we live into Dr. Jack’s vision, we are a school that believes that every adult, from parents to teachers to administrators, influences each and every student’s success and that this success is made more tantalizing in a culture that is characterized by respect and dignity for all.” From this essential belief, the School’s faculty came together in May 2012 to formally articulate the School’s Core Values, which rest upon the simple objective of Reflecting God’s Love: Respect, Perseverance, Courage, Compassion, Integrity and Gratitude.
In 2015 the School’s most ambitious Capital Campaign, Make Room for the Future, launched securing the four largest individual gifts in the School’s history.Because of the campaign, in 2019, the School was able to open Founders Hall, a new 46,000 square-foot Early Childhood/Lower School facility representing the School’s first “stand-alone” building in addition to completely remodeling the 20,000-square-foot Middle School.