As O’Neal turns the bend of the 2022-2023 school year, it celebrates John Elmore’s ten-year anniversary at O’Neal by recognizing his many achievements in strengthening the School’s programs and offerings.
This past fall, O’Neal’s Board of Trustees honored John and all that he has achieved for the School by naming the lawn surrounding O’Neal’s new central campus the “John Elmore Green”. Board Chair Lynda Acker remarked, “John’s accomplishments are many and have touched every aspect of the School and truly every student of the School.”
Rich with experience in independent school education, from the moment he was hired, Elmore was focused on fortifying O’Neal’s curriculum. In his first year, he expanded the choice of electives in the Upper School and conducted fundraising to upgrade the School’s science laboratories.
Since that time, virtual course offerings via One Schoolhouse are available in the Upper School; a junior kindergarten has been added; math, reading, and writing curricula have been upgraded in the Lower and Middle Schools as well as the requirement of a research paper for all middle and upper school students each year. A schoolwide grammar program has been introduced in addition to the distinguished Signature Scholars Research Program. In O’Neal’s 51 years, it has been known for academic excellence, and even before Elmore’s coming there was strong college placement. Even with all the new programming, there is more to consider in creating a strong learning environment. Much of this requires perspective and to build that insight, O’Neal’s head of school has been exposed to many different educational settings starting at a young age.
Elmore comes from Ekalaka, Montana. It is a town with a population of 399 and is known for sandstone rock, open plains, and its mark on the Montana Dinosaur Trail. His family was ranchers. Elmore is proudly the first on his paternal side of the family to attend high school. He graduated with a multitude of achievements and was awarded scholarships ranging from athletics to cattle judging. Despite his exposure to many different paths, academia surfaced as his strong point.
Elmore went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell College in Iowa and a master’s degree in religion and ethics from Yale University. During his college years, he was able to study abroad in Europe. He has worked as a teacher, college counselor, and administrator in independent schools in New York City; Grosse Pointe, Michigan; Midland, Texas; and Westport, Connecticut. All of his experience has given him a vision to not only build academic excellence but to also incorporate community within the school setting.
To create a strong feeling of community, members must feel comfortable, confident, and safe. Elmore can be credited for hiring a full-time school nurse, director of safety and security, and school counselor as well as contracting athletic trainers to be on hand for games. He ensured the installation of campus lighting, video monitoring, and fobs for entering buildings. Campus safety is paired with small class sizes where strong relationships are formed - student to student and student to teacher. A parent commented in this fall’s parent satisfaction survey the following: “It's the sense of community that allows for education to be more... natural and organic somehow. … students learn when they're comfortable. It all goes hand in hand.”
In his time at O’Neal thus far, the athletics program has thrived with more than 30 conference championships, 13 state championships, two Wells Fargo Cups signifying excellence in athletics among Division 2A independent schools, and the addition of a varsity sport and three middle school sports. His strong support and collaboration with Athletics Director James Franklin and the coaching staff go even further with the enablement of a sports performance program allowing for strength conditioning and performance training for student-athletes throughout the school year as well as the summer.
One of the most notable accomplishments for Elmore was to open the campus for in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when many schools chose to be virtual. In-person learning was the only option given. In an article written by Signature Research Scholars Program students about Elmore, they state, “Many educational administrations were unwilling to deviate from the status quo of virtual learning that had been established; however, Elmore went another route. The ‘Montanan’, as Elmore calls himself, instead decided to remain completely in-person, without the alternative to online education. This maneuver was risky, but in the end, offered many benefits, including the retention of all faculty members, significant advantages to students’ social and educational development, staggering growth paired with record enrollment, and the continued establishment of O’Neal as a paragon for educational excellence.”
In a March 2021 letter to parents, Elmore comments, “When the academic year began in August, our administrative team was singularly focused on doing everything possible just to avoid a major closure before Labor Day. Labor Day’s goal turned to Thanksgiving and then O’Neal passed the holidays and the first 100 days of school. Now, we find ourselves on the cusp of spring break looking toward end-of-year ceremonies. Looking back, I thank everyone in our community who made this year possible, especially the families who trusted O’Neal with their students’ educations at a time that was filled with so much uncertainty.”
Stan Bradshaw, past parent and part of the O’Neal community for more than 25 years and Board Trustee for more than 20 years commented, “The School has come a long way under John’s leadership.” He went on to mention his many achievements including record enrollment, financial stability, and recruitment of outstanding faculty. He highlighted John’s creation of the Signature Scholars Program. “This is a unique and impressive program that really distinguishes O’Neal, but more importantly it represents an opportunity for our scholars to differentiate themselves as they ready for the college admissions process.” Stan closed by reporting that during John’s time at O’Neal, so far a total of $20 million in scholarships has been earned by O’Neal’s seniors.
The O’Neal School is thankful to have John Elmore at the helm. There is no argument that he has provided the best learning environment possible for the individual student and he continues to improve on this mission each and every day.