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Theatre Program Shines Bright Under Director Kerri Sanders

fullsizeoutput_b65From a life bright with stage lights, Kerri Sanders brings an abundance of experience and knowledge to her new role as Jackson Academy’s theatre director. In her Theatre and Theatre Tech classes, Sanders will guide students in the many facets of theatre while she also directs JA productions, including this fall’s Mary Poppins. For Sanders, teaching theatre at JA is an opportunity to help students grow in their pursuit of significance and purpose.

“So much of JA’s mission aligns with my own mission,” says Sanders. “Nurturing students, preparing students to be who God created us to be as we’re moving forward.” The mission, talent, and facilities available at JA attracted Sanders to the school. The positive environment had a special draw for the thespian. “Our goal is first to nurture and encourage kids,” says Sanders. “I think it’s so important to have a positive environment for the arts and a place where kids feel safe, you feel safe to be creative, safe to be yourself.”

“It’s a funny thing when you discover your purpose and you find that you’re most comfortable when it’s challenging you,” says Sanders, “I have to be doing this.” From a one-woman production of Little Red Riding Hood, given for her grandparents when she was 4 or 5 years old, to her recent position as education director at New Stage Theatre, Sanders has rarely known a time apart from the art. High school involvement in community theatre and a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Belhaven University convinced Sanders that the stage was the place for her talents and purpose to merge. She even met her husband through theatre.

Having loved her six years spent at New Stage, Sanders found the collaborative spirit at Jackson Academy a natural draw. “Theatre is a team sport, for sure,” says Sanders. “If you design lighting and you have no actors to focus your light on, then you’re just shining a flashlight in the dark.  The same is true for actors – we all need each other in the theatre.”

Sanders plans to channel the excitement and support for theatre that is already in place at JA as she leads students and expands the program. Starting an International Thespian Society troupe at the school and increasing the number of competition opportunities for JA students are two of her priorities. She will also draw on her contacts to bring professionals from the theatre community to educate and encourage students.

At the end of October the cast of Mary Poppins will take the stage under Sanders’ direction, with more than 125 students slated to delight audiences with the classic musical. Before the phrase “I can’t, I have rehearsal” becomes a necessary mantra, Sanders is busily preparing for the year. At home in Brandon with her husband Michael, German/Australian Shepherd dog Kora, and their cats Hermione and Dobby, she relaxes by growing vegetables in the couple’s garden. Earth, rain, and a lot of light combined with Sanders’ care grow the plants, like the students she’ll encourage to discover their talents and interests under the stage lights.

Jackson Academy Appoints Vice President and Dean of the School

Jack F. Milne began his role as Vice President and Dean of the School at Jackson Academy June 1. Milne fills the role of senior administrator overseeing academics, arts, athletics, and student life upon the retirement of JA’s headmaster, Pat Taylor, who retired May 31.

“Jack Milne brings a wealth of experience and an impressive skill set to Jackson Academy after having served for 16 years at one of our country’s leading independent schools, The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida,” said JA President Cliff Kling. “During the interview process, it was immediately very obvious to the search committee that his student-centered philosophy, his teaching background, his relational skills, and his leadership experience are an excellent fit for Jackson Academy.”

Milne graduated high school in Jacksonville and then attended college on a football scholarship at Vanderbilt University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in History. He also holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Florida College of Law.

“When Caroline and I first set foot on the Jackson Academy campus, we could immediately sense that this was an energetic, progressive, caring, student-centered school,” said Milne. “That impression was affirmed when we saw the looks on the students’ faces and their interaction with their dedicated faculty, as well as in our meetings with the search committee and other school leaders. We were made to feel so welcomed by everyone, and both of us truly believe this is a calling to a premier independent school that will result in not only professional growth, but also spiritual growth. While I know I have immense shoes to fill in following Pat Taylor, holding a number of different teaching and administrative positions during the past 16+ years has been personally and professionally rewarding and has helped prepare me for this challenging role. Caroline and I are excited, honored, and thankful about becoming members of the Jackson Academy community and pledge to work daily to make a positive contribution to the school.”

Milne has a particular interest in fostering the development of character and moral courage as part of students’ preparation for college and life beyond. “Today more than ever it is essential that our educational institutions, in partnership with parents and communities, work to help instill in our youth a moral force of character and to give them the inspiration to carry out honorable and compassionate acts. This must begin with our own acknowledgement and demonstration that every child in the school matters, and that each has gifts that are brought to the table. It is incumbent upon us to recognize the existence of those gifts and help the student likewise identify and maximize them,” he said.

Milne has served at The Bolles School since 2000. The Bolles School is a selective boarding and day school serving 1,750 students in grades PK to 12 on three campuses. He taught Economics, Economics and the Law, and U.S. History for four years before becoming Associate Head of School for Student Life. After 10 years as Associate Head, he was tapped to lead the Middle School campus. In 2004, he was awarded The Bolles School Dewan Teaching Fellow Award.

Among numerous areas of service, he was faculty sponsor of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, board member of the YMCA and YMCA Camp Immokalee, board member of the Jacksonville Humane Society, member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and trustee and chair of the Board of Trustees for St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School.

Milne and his wife Caroline, a registered nurse, are the parents of three adult children. Their daughter Caroline is a 2011 graduate of Tulane University College of Law with her undergraduate degree in 2004 from New York University; son John is a 2010 graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; and daughter Emily is a 2015 graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“I look forward to being able to introduce Jack and Caroline to you personally as they become members of the JA community in the upcoming school year,” said Kling. “I also express my gratitude to the members of the search committee for the wisdom, care, prayer, and time each of them devoted to the search process.”

Search Committee

Cliff Kling, President
Pat Taylor, Headmaster
Angie Antici, Vice President for Finance & Operations
Peter Jernberg, President Emeritus
Ashley Willson, Class of 1987, Board Chair
Greg Johnston, Class of 1991, Board Vice Chair
Randy James, Board Member
Ed Kennedy, Board Member
Sandra McKay, Upper School English Teacher
Lindsey Roberson, Class of 2003, First Grade Teacher

Natalie Ford: Inspired to Pursue Excellence


At Jackson Academy, you are surrounded by a community of supporters— all dedicated to helping you identify your greatest talents, develop your particular gifts, and live with a strong sense of faith and purpose. A natural self-starter, this is just what Natalie Ford needed to help her develop a mastery of speech and debate skills. She became the most decorated member of the Jackson Academy speech and debate team. Among her many accolades, Natalie earned the honor of competing at the 2017 National Catholic Forensic League tournament, as well as a Degree of Distinction from the National Speech and Debate Association.

In addition to her speech and debate skills, Natalie also began writing a blog. Here is a recent Q & A with her about the blog.

What motivated you to start your blog?
I’m not sure…I wanted to have a place to share my thoughts and ideas with the world.

What steps did you take to get it started?
First, I did lots of research on various bloggers and blogging platforms. Then, I came up with a name and topic area. Next, I chose WordPress as my platform for blogging and built my website. Finally, I published a few blog posts.

What have you learned doing the blog? 
It’s not as easy as it looks. Writing and creating fresh content is fun but, it can be time-consuming and you must have your target audience in mind.

What is your career ambition?
I want to be a fashion designer.

What things do you like to do at JA?
Speech and Debate is my favorite activity but I am also a member of the Varsity Volleyball team and the Cooking Club.

How long have you been a student at JA?
I have been a JA student for 5 years, I came in Pre-K through second grade and then returned for my Junior and Senior year.

Strength and Conditioning Coach Gordon Weir Prepares JA Athletes


Every celebrity was once a student, and Jackson Academy students now share something with a few of Hollywood’s biggest names. Gordon Weir, who has trained the likes of Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, and Alec Baldwin, is bringing his expertise to Jackson Academy as strength and conditioning coach.

Fueled by a passion for total fitness and competitive sports, Weir will work with the school’s football, basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer, and volleyball teams. It’s a passion that has been refined over Weir’s 44-year career in strength and conditioning.

“Total fitness is what is most important, and that is a goal I make to teach these kids,” says Weir. He’ll start the students slow, building up speed, strength, and power over time to protect from injury and burnout. “Quality over quantity is my motto for strength and conditioning,” he says.

Like the institution Weir now works for, he values progress and innovation.“I was the only person in Mississippi who did any kind of strength and conditioning in the 70s” says Weir.  In the 1970s and 80s he owned and directed fitness centers and clubs across Mississippi as a pioneer in the health and fitness industry.  The Nautilus Fitness Centers, YMCA, and Courthouse Racquet Clubs benefited from Weir’s experience, as did his star-studded clientele.  As a personal trainer, Weir coached Dodgers pitchers Brent Leach and Don Sutton, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, Miss America, and George Clooney.

Many of this coach’s mantras are familiar truths: breakfast is important, and don’t go on an empty tank. “Nutrition is 50 percent of this…” says Weir. “I give each coach a list of foods that are important to each based off that sport.” Weir does this because “football players need more calories to get stronger,” but in basketball “they are burning so many calories they need different types of calories than other sports,” says Weir. That is where he steps in with his plan.

While nutrition is 50 percent of the game plan for Weir, training core strength, flexibility, speed, and agility complete the play. In training for football, Weir says, “Start off slow in June, build up in July, back off for two-a-days, and then back off for the season. If you start too early you will break kids down.” His holistic approach to physical fitness integrates the individualized approach that Jackson Academy takes with each student, paying attention to specific needs, wants, and abilities.

“Fitness is a lifestyle, not a trend,” says Weir. Competition in athletics is important, but for many high schoolers, the long-term benefit of involvement in sports outweighs the short-term thrill of a win. Weir aims to educate students to maintain a healthy lifestyle well beyond their time on a JA Raiders team.

Weir’s methods pay off. He has coached more than 400 students who went on to earn athletic scholarships. His experience, expertise, and philosophy make him a welcome addition to the Raiders coaching program at Jackson Academy.

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