The History of
Beaches Episcopal School

Beaches Episcopal School was founded as an independent school in 1952. That year, the Vestry and Rector, Fr. Edward Harrison, of St. Paul's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church established a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten and 5-year-old kindergarten as an outreach into the parish and community. It was decided in 1957, under the leadership of Fr. Robert Parks and the Vestry, to establish a parish day school that would serve pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

During the next thirty-five years, six more Heads of School (principals) shared their special gifts that enabled the school to stretch and grow and reach farther into the beaches community and to become one of Jacksonville’s top independent elementary schools. The outstanding loyalty, support, and talent of the faculty, staff, and parents has been and continues to be, recognized throughout the parish and community.

Through the Years


From 1959-61 the third and fourth grades were added respectively and a new wing was added to the Stormes Hall classrooms. In 1963 Florence Hartsuff was appointed principal and taught second grade as well. The 4th and 5th grades were combined. In 1964 Betty Hatcher was appointed 6th grade teacher, but it wasn’t until 1966-1967 that there were six full grades. During that same school year Spanish, religion and physical education were added to the curriculum as enrichment classes.


Mildred Dana, who was appointed principal by Fr. Neil Gray, re-designed the school program into multi-aged, non-graded, continuous progression format that emphasized individualized instruction. In 1980, the parents formally organized as the Parents’ Support Organization (PSO) to raise funds for the school. (Rector: Neil Gray)


Arlene Dittmer was named principal in 1985 and the school returned to a more traditional format. During her tenure classrooms were air-conditioned and an after school program was added. (Rector: Neil Gray)


Fr. Craig Wylie became the Headmaster in 1988. During his tenure the Board of Trustees and PSO were restructured, the pre-kindergarten program revived, an art program was added, the library was built and computer instruction was introduced into the curriculum. Office procedures, admissions policies, and the billing system were updated and teacher salaries and benefits were improved. (Rector: Edward Harrison, Jr.)


During Fr. Jeffrey Reichmann’s tenure financial and enrollment concerns were addressed and the substantial debt that had been accumulated over several years was essentially eliminated. The school was renamed “Beaches Episcopal School” to acknowledge its actual outreach to a broader community, a part-time Admissions Director position was added, and at the close of the 1994-95 school year the school enrollment was at an all time high. (Rector: John Moulton)


When Sam van Leer took over in 1995 as the Headmaster, the school was growing, but had no place to go. During his tenure Jean McCormick generously donated the land needed to expand the classroom space in the school. Under Sam’s guidance, the first building phase of McCormick Hall was completed in the Fall of 1997 and the second phase, complete with a classroom sized computer lab, opened the fall of 2000. During this time the much needed positions of Academic Dean and Development Director were added. (Rectors: John Moulton and Greg Frasier)


Jackie Jennings Busse was appointed the Head of School in 2001 and directed her attention to curriculum needs. Within two years all curriculum areas were updated, technology integration into all aspects of the school expanded computer usage from 50 computers to 130 and a mini-computer lab was installed in Stormes Hall. The critical positions of Admissions Director and Development Director became full-time. A new playfield, playground, and basketball court was constructed in 2010. A new enrichment building, Hope Hall, was built in 2013, housing a state-of-the-art climbing wall, art room and music room. Renovation in the summer of 2013 provided for a new science lab in McCormick Hall. These additions were the result of The Future is Now Capital Campaign, spearheaded by Mrs. Busse over the course of many years. (Rectors: Greg Frasier and Penny Pfab)


Martha Milton was appointed Head of School in 2013 after the retirement of Jackie Busse. The Board of Trustees is currently looking towards the future and working to enhance the school’s reputation as one of the top private and independent elementary schools in Jacksonville, The Beaches and Ponte Vedra. (The Reverend Lounanne Loch - Rector)