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National Merit Recognizes Jackson Academy Senior Dolph Maxwell

Jackson Academy senior Dolph Maxwell has been recognized as a semifinalist in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program. “Jackson Academy is thrilled that Dolph is being recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. For many years, Dolph has represented the best of Jackson Academy on the athletic fields, in the arts, and in the classroom,” says Dean Steven McCartney. Since he entered the third grade as a new student at JA, Dolph, his family, and Jackson Academy have partnered to foster his pursuit of excellence.

In 2016 Dolph was one of nearly 1.6 million juniors who entered the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2016 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This test is the first screen to determine which students will compete for designation as National Merit Finalists. The 16,000 semifinalists announced nationwide comprise less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, and include the highest scoring students in each state. For Dolph, the semifinalist designation is a great reward for years of hard work.

This academically talented student loves more than being in the books, and has embraced the opportunities available at JA. Whether it’s a lead role in a play, quiz bowl competitions, or a tough class like AP Calculus, Dolph’s curiosity is always accompanied by his love of a new challenge. Upon being notified of his selection, Dolph took a moment to reflect on the many ways JA has shaped his journey.  

How have the teachers at JA dolph-maxwellinfluenced your life?

I sincerely believe that all the teachers I’ve had take a personal interest in each of their students, and I wouldn’t be able to make a short list of influential teachers. However, no teacher has been more important in my life than my 6th grade English teacher, my own mom.

How has your family supported your academic success?

Ever since I was little, my parents have fostered my curiosity about the world and encouraged me to learn more. My older siblings also treated me like a peer and always treated me like I was as smart as them, so I thought I was.

What things do you do outside of class?

I play football, perform with Encore and in the school plays, compete in quiz bowl and math and science competitions, and lead the senior class student council.

What classes are you taking this year?

Intro to Engineering, AP Cal, Latin III, AP Gov/Econ, AP Lit, Encore, and football

Which has been your favorite class, and why?

AP Lit has been especially fun because it feels like a continuation of last year’s class which was a very rewarding challenge.

Why do you like the challenge presented by a rigorous class?

When I really have to apply myself and give my all is when I’m at my best.

What do you hope to do in life?

I hope to use the gifts God has blessed me with to help others, whether that means healing in a hospital or ministering in daily life.

Dolph now qualifies to compete for the National Merit Finalist title and scholarship. He will collaborate with faculty at JA to complete a detailed application exploring his academic record, involvement, leadership, and honors and awards received. The results will be announced beginning next April, but in the meantime Dolph will roll up his sleeves to take on this new challenge while staying on top of his classes, performing in this fall’s production of Mary Poppins, and rounding out his final season on the JA Raiders football team.

Fan Experience a Highlight of the Game for Coach Walker


Jackson Academy is happy to welcome Coach Brandt Walker as associate athletic director. In addition to his associate director role, Walker is the defensive coordinator for the Junior High football team and assists with Varsity football and the boys and girls track teams. Walker comes to JA with 14 years of coaching experience, including a decade as football and track coach at Jackson Prep.

As he begins his new role, Walker intends to highlight the Athletic Department’s existing strengths. Part of his job is keeping up with logistics such as ticket sales, player eligibility, and the athletic calendar. Of Walker’s plans, the one that brings the most excitement to his voice is his plan to elevate the fan experience. When he describes Fridays at JA, you can feel fall football in the air.

“I love Fridays during football season,” he explained. “It’s an experience unlike any other. Going to pep rallies and then after three o’clock when school is out and they are starting to cook the hamburgers in the concession stand..the music is going…it’s the greatest time of year.” That tangible excitement is what Walker hopes to ignite in others by promoting athletics through social media and collaboration with the Raider Network, an internet broadcast that highlights student achievements in athletics and arts while exposing students to the latest opportunities in broadcasting and production.

‘The Raider Network is phenomenal,” said Walker. “There is nothing like it in the state. Even the places that we play watch Raider Network. They watch it because it is such good quality.”

Walker’s passion for coaching is driven by the interpersonal relationship built
between coach and athlete. He enjoys building rapport with students early and watching them mature and progress. Walker shares how the relationship between coach and athlete doesn’t end at graduation, “Years later, after a former athlete graduates, you go to
someone’s wedding and a former player approaches you and shares how they are sorry for the stupid things they did when you coached them, apologizing for the way they acted, and then they say thank you. You can’t put money on that. Those experiences are awesome.”  He is also proud when he sees his former players thriving in their careers. “Those moments where you see their success is truly what it is all about,” he said.

Besides coaching for 10 years at Jackson Prep, two years at Copiah Academy, and while attending college, two years at Simpson Academy, Walker himself attended an independent school, Simpson Academy. Like many coaches before him, Walker took a coaching hiatus. He tried his hand in sales. “I wanted to get back into coaching; it is what I was made to do,” he said. His wife recognized his bent for coaching and encouraged him to return to the job he loved. “She told me, ‘I want you to be a coach again. I know that’s what makes you happy—it’s what you were created to do.”

Walker is married to Jennifer, the director of professional development at the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, and their daughter, Mary Hampton, is a sixth grader at JA.

Walker looks forward to many Fridays spent cheering on the Raiders. “Everybody’s got a pep in their step on Fridays. I have game day pants that I wear. This tradition started when I was given the pants as a gift at Prep and has continued at JA.  Last week a package appeared in my box and it was, you guessed it, Raider colored game day pants. The tradition continues.”

Ali Dinkins Turns New Page as Preschool Librarian


Shelves stacked high with beloved children’s books line the walls of Jackson Academy’s Preschool Library. Tiny chairs and tables are arranged around the room where Ali Dinkins’ lifelong love of books fuels her enthusiasm and captivates her daily audience of students.

Dinkins has always loved picture books. She used them in high school speech classes and received them as birthday presents in college. “I didn’t know that that was unusual,” she says.

At Baylor University, Dinkins studied theatre and early childhood education, anticipating a future role as a teacher. She spent two years with a classical repertory theatre in Detroit after college, where she earned a master’s degree in theatre. Since moving to Jackson she has played the title roles in “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” and “The Velveteen Rabbit” at New Stage Theatre.

For the actress, reading to children is a performance. “I just love how magical it is to them,” says Dinkins, who enjoys watching curiosity ignite her audience’s eyes when they are intrigued by a story. “As adults, we would call it a page-turner.”

Preschool Dean Tara McDaniel says Dinkins “brings so much enthusiasm, children just fall in love with her and the books she’s reading to them.”

Dinkins and her husband John have four children, all at JA: Bonner in tenth grade, twins McNeill and Coleman in ninth grade; and Weathersby in fifth grade. In 2016, all six Dinkins packed up their bags to spend a year in Costa Rica. The children attended a bilingual school, and the family plugged into the community there. “We had always wanted for our kids to do some sort of cultural exchange, and I can’t imagine giving any of mine up for a year, to be actual foreign exchange students.”

“We learned a lot, not just Spanish,” she says. “Costa Rica values humility over efficiency. Everybody is so patient. The national saying is pura vida, and it just means ‘pure life.’”

When the Dinkins came home for Christmas that year they did a book drive for donations to help build the library at the school in Costa Rica. Each family member packed two 50-pound suitcases for the trip. “Six of us, so 600 pounds of books,” she says. Only it was actually 550 pounds — one suitcase credit had to be used for a kayak.

Dinkins’ children flourished as the family embraced Costa Rican culture. “It helped us all to appreciate each other,” Dinkins says. Tasks such as shopping for peanut butter when no one knew the words, or pulling their truck out of a mountain ditch, brought them together as a team.

In Costa Rica, “every day, nature touches your life,” she says, recalling with a laugh the way her family reacted to recent Mississippi rain. “We lived, soaking wet, for a year in the rain forest. We were all laughing at ourselves, that we didn’t want to get wet getting into the car!”

Cliff Kling Accepts New Appointment, Jack Milne To Succeed Him


Chair of the Jackson Academy Board of Trustees, Gregory M. Johnston, announced yesterday that school President Cliff Kling has accepted the position as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Gulliver Schools effective January 1, 2018. Jack F. Milne has been unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees to succeed Kling and lead Jackson Academy as Head of School beginning January 1.

Gulliver is the fifth largest school in the National Association of Independent Schools serving over 2,200 students on four campuses in Coral Gables, Pinecrest, and Miami, Florida.

“It is a testament to the high caliber of Jackson Academy’s leadership team that our President would be selected to lead one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious independent schools,” said Johnston. “We wish Cliff the greatest success in his new position.”

Kling has served Jackson Academy for over 17 years, first as Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel, and he is currently serving in his fourth year as President. His contributions to the school have been immense and include spearheading land acquisition to double the size of the main campus; overseeing the design and construction of over $25 million of campus improvements; providing financial leadership to facilitate the implementation of JA’s Apple one-to-one program; implementing a STEM curriculum and installing three STEM labs; leading the processes of creating a new mission statement, branding identity, and a new crest; negotiating the refinancing of JA’s bond indebtedness at a savings of $165,000 per year; and working with the development office staff to raise record amounts in the JA Annual Fund, including over $420,000 this past school year.

“I am so grateful for my many years at Jackson Academy, and I will always love this school,” said Kling. “JA has afforded me such incredible opportunities for both personal and professional growth. I’ve had the privilege of working with the finest colleagues anyone could hope to have. Our school is blessed with great students, wonderful families, and an incredible faculty and staff. Heather and I are especially grateful for the many teachers who have nurtured, inspired, and equipped our daughters who have attended JA since they were three years old.”

jack-and-caroline-milneMilne joined JA June 1 as Vice President and Dean of the School, the senior administrator overseeing academics, arts, athletics, and student life.

“Jack Milne was the obvious and clear choice following so closely after the national search process that we conducted last year, which resulted in our hiring him for the role of Vice President and Dean of the School. We considered many high-quality candidates during our search, including sitting heads of school. Even with such outstanding candidates, Jack stood out head and shoulders above the other candidates. We recognized when we hired Jack that he has the skills, qualities, and attributes to lead a school as Head of School. More than that, we recognized what a great fit Jack is for JA, and his time on campus since joining us has certainly confirmed that,” said Johnston. “Jackson Academy is in an enviable position of leadership succession with its next Head of School already on campus, which will allow Cliff to spend this semester working with Jack to continue to orient him to Jackson Academy and the responsibilities of leading the school.”

Milne came to Jackson Academy after serving as a teacher, Middle School Head, and Associate Head at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida where he served for 17 years. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Vanderbilt University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Florida College of Law.  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, during which time he continued to teach, 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 Boy Scouts, president of the Jacksonville Historical Society, chair of the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, vestry of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and trustee and chair of the Board of Trustees for St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School.

“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. “I am grateful and deeply humbled at the trust that has been placed in me by the Trustees. I have learned a great deal under Cliff’s leadership and look forward to the next several months working with him in preparation for this critically important role. Caroline and I have been made to feel so welcomed by JA and the broader Jackson community and are excited about our future years with the school and in our new hometown.” Milne and his wife Caroline reside on Sheffield Drive near the school. They are the parents of three adult children.

Dr. Jimmy Abraham Gives Keynote Address at Teacher Work Week


During teacher work week, faculty and staff gathered to hear motivating messages from JA speakers and a guest speaker, Dr. Jimmy Abraham. Wright Busching opened the day with a devotional about humility. He offered a quote from noted Christian apologist C.S. Lewis that “there are no ordinary people.” All people are immortal, and we should conduct our interactions with one another with this in mind.

Greg Johnston ’91, Chair of the Jackson Academy Board of Trustees, welcomed faculty and staff to the start of another school year. He shared fond memories of teachers, especially a dean at JA whose kindness made a lasting impact on his life. “Every time I come back to campus, it is special to me,” Johnston said. Faculty and staff represent one of the “most incredible assets we have on this campus. JA is so blessed to have you,” he said.

Vice President and Dean of the School Jack Milne spoke about fostering a culture that is “relentlessly positive.” He stressed the opportunity each faculty and staff member has to demonstrate a caring spirit each day.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Jimmy Abraham, who served Mississippi State University for 38 years in associate vice president roles throughout development, alumni, and student affairs, and as executive director of the university’s alumni association. Several former students who worked as university ambassadors and orientation leaders under Dr. Abraham were in the JA audience and gathered with Dr. Abraham afterward for a photo. Dr. Abraham also mentioned that he and Sherard Shaw graduated from high school the same year, were friends, and played baseball on opposing teams. He recalled stories of the times Coach Shaw had thrown Dr. Abraham all curve balls during a game…three and out.

Dr. Abraham’s message brimmed with guidance from his leadership and personal experiences. He emphasized seizing opportunities to positively influence others, responding well when thrown a curveball, and recognizing the influence of words spoken. He recalled his year as a college freshman in which he did not believe in himself. Encouragers around him would counter his statement, “I can’t do that,” with the positive words, “Yes, you can. I will help you.” He compared people to shrubs that need pruning. With the right attention, they will grow.

JA President Cliff Kling closed the morning by remarking how many of the talks had paralleled one another. He announced that faculty and staff would be given a book to read this year as school faculty. Faculty and staff were also provided a list of 25 suggestions for working at a school from Dr. Abraham.

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