The Reverend Dr. Samuel D'Amico founded St. James’ Episcopal School as a mission of St. James’ Episcopal Church in 1968 to provide a high-quality elementary education, grounded in the Christian faith, for families in the parish neighborhood. Joseph DeBell, a St. James’ parishioner and an advocate of youth causes including schools and scouting, donated the original school building, a humble apartment on Gramercy Place, which was large enough for the four Kindergarten students and one teacher.
Each year from 1968 until 1974, a grade level was added until the school welcomed students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. From the beginning, the school offered a challenging academic program within a caring environment. Kindergarten candidates were screened for admission and evaluated annually for academic progress. Students worshipped together and received regular religious instruction.
In 1981, St. James’ Episcopal School moved to its current location on St. Andrews Place. The DeBell Hall building – funded by Joseph DeBell, the St. James’ parish, and the Ahmanson Foundation – was designed for fourteen classrooms (two sections at each grade level). The school reached its full capacity of 308 students in 1984 and was known in the community primarily for its strong academic program, unpretentious atmosphere, diverse student body reflecting the vast diversity of Los Angeles, and outstanding choir and music program.
In 1997, commercial property known as Belden's was razed to create a playing field for the school. In 2001, an additional building was added, including a multipurpose hall, library, technology room, science laboratory, and larger classrooms. The square footage of the school doubled while the number of students remained the same.
In 2009, The Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation and parents contributed to the creation of a state-of-the-art science lab with cutting-edge equipment that led to the implementation of a robust S.T.E.A.M. program uniting science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics in an engaging and rigorous course of study.
In 2011, an art room renovation made possible by the Ahmanson Foundation and parent support set the stage for a dynamic and expanded art program including digital arts, ceramics, and two- and three-dimensional pieces of unique vision and individuality displayed throughout the school. In the fall of 2012, a sleek new St. James’ Preschool building opened its doors on Gramercy Place to 60 students, including a brand new Junior Kindergarten, bringing the school population to its current population of 370 students.
St. James’ technology program boasts the most modern equipment including SMART Boards, cameras, tablets, multimedia devices, desktop computers, projectors, and document cameras, all of which are vehicles by which students can comfortably travel through cyberspace researching and collaborating in higher level thinking and problem-solving. The technologically sophisticated, interactive Spanish curriculum builds new levels of oral proficiency in the upper levels, while the performing arts program established in 2013 opens the frontiers of band, acting, musical theater, Shakespeare, and dance to students at every grade level. The school’s choir remains a beautiful tribute to gentle learning and refined musical tastes.
The school has met the needs of a changing population and responded to market signals and current educational research to adjust its program over time, but the bedrock foundations of the school remain unchanged. Committed to maintaining its racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity, an endowment established in the new millennium swelled to nearly $2,000,000 with the arrival of foundational gifts to support tuition assistance from the Wells and March families, which in turn inspired significant contributions from many other members of our community.
Financial assistance in excess of $750,000 annually continues to ensure the diverse community St. James’ cherishes and for which it was founded. In 2012, the school appointed a Director of Service Learning to perpetuate the school’s commitment to raising yet another generation of children who will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and share their bounty with the poor. An aquaponics garden created on the roof of St. James’ Hall in 2013 speaks to the school’s commitment to sustaining the environment that has so richly supported the school for nearly half a century.
St. James’ children are regarded as upstanding citizens and fine scholars; they are eagerly sought by the city’s best middle schools. St. James’ Episcopal School continues to thrive and develop students capable of facing the challenges of the 21st century with courage and conviction. Its graduates are prepared spiritually, physically, mentally, and morally to lead the world into a better, brighter tomorrow.