By Michael Jacobs
J. Brett Jacobsen has lived all of his 37 years in Texas, but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to move to Sandy Springs to become the fourth head of school in the 37-year history of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.
“Community is the strongest appeal for me to come to Mount Vernon,” Jacobsen said in a phone interview from his office at Second Baptist School in Houston, where he has been the head of school for four years. “Mount Vernon is a community. It’s a community of faith. It’s a school community. It’s a neighborhood community. It’s a community of relationships that last forever. That’s significant in this day and age.”
Jacobsen will succeed Jeff Jackson on July 1. Jackson is leaving Mount Vernon to become the executive director of the Georgia Independent School Association, a move he announced in August.
“Brett’s exceptional academic achievements, leadership skills, Christian ethic, and integrity will all contribute overwhelmingly to furthering the development of our beloved school,” David Kolb, the search committee chairman, and the co-chairs of the Mount Vernon board of trustees, Paula Fisher and Steve Ray, wrote in a letter to school families Jan. 30.
Not only has Jacobsen lived all his life in Texas, but he also has spent his entire academic career at Second Baptist, which has 1,100 students from prekindergarten to 12th grade. He started as a history and geography teacher 14 years ago and worked his way up through department chairman, director of upper school student affairs, director of the middle school, director of development and director of secondary education. He has a bachelor’s from Texas Tech University, a master’s from the University of Houston and a doctorate from Baylor University.
“We are abundantly blessed to have found someone who possesses such rich experience, demonstratively visionary leadership utilizing a team approach, the highest of qualifications, as well as a progressive and dynamic educational philosophy. These attributes, united with his strong Christian faith, provide an outstanding foundation,” Kolb, Fisher and Ray wrote.
Jacobsen said he’s not concerned about the move from a Baptist school to a Presbyterian school because “I don’t get into the minutiae of denominational issues. Both are strongly committed Christian schools. … Both reflect an independent school model that you would see from other well-known private schools in Houston or Atlanta or North Hollywood, Calif., or Exeter, N.H.”
He said both institutions spent decades as feeder schools that stopped at eighth grade, then expanded into high school. Both, he said, focus on academic excellence, strong athletics and support for the arts to prepare their students for college and life.
But Second Baptist is a quarter-century older than Mount Vernon Presbyterian and has roughly 250 more students, so the Houston school has been where the Sandy Springs school wants to go.
Thanks to Jackson and the vision of its founders, faculty, staff, parents and students, Mount Vernon is on its way to becoming one of metro Atlanta’s premier educational institutions, Jacobsen said. “I’m coming at a particular time to carry forth that sort of vision that was laid there. There’s a great foundation already at the school.”
He found the chance to build on that foundation and put his own stamp on the school irresistible.
As part of that effort, he hopes to institute a student leadership program like one he started in Houston called Leadership Second. It involves speakers and community service, culminating in seniors refurbishing houses for poor retirees in the days between their last final exams and graduation.
“Their last experience at school is giving back,” Jacobsen said.
Getting people to give is one of Jacobsen’s strengths. The Mount Vernon search committee noted his successes at Second Baptist in growing the school’s endowment and annual fund, as well as expanding enrollment and improving faculty retention.
Fundraising will be one of his top concerns at Mount Vernon. He said that raising money is always difficult because there are so many deserving causes, and the recession makes the task tougher. “Challenging times really are an opportunity to reaffirm who you are as an institution. It allows you to move forward in a greater way.”
He said he has faith in the Mount Vernon community to continue the school’s growth.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary schools. I strongly believe that Mount Vernon is an extraordinary school,” Jacobsen said, because of “the combination of parents and teachers who are on the same page about how to move forward and fulfill the vision.”
That makes Mount Vernon and the Atlanta area the right place at the right time for Jacobsen and his wife, Adrienne, and their daughters, Cate, 3, and Claire, 1.
“I think exciting times are ahead for the school,” he said. “Despite what might be ahead outside the walls, Mount Vernon is an extraordinary school and will sustain us through these difficult times. It will allow us to reaffirm who we are and move forward in a greater way.”