Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School was founded by Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in 1959 and initially served ages 3 through first grade. The church itself began as a mission in 1872 following the American Civil War to serve orphaned children and the poor of Atlanta and was funded in part by St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (Cathedral of St. Philip). The name, Holy Innocents’, is in memory of the infants slaughtered by King Herod when he attempted to kill Jesus as an infant.
The school opened with 72 enrolled students under the direction of Lillabel West. A committee consisting of the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church’s Vestry oversaw the operation of the school with the aid of consultants from Emory University who authored the non-graded approach to education. The school grew a grade each year through the mid 1960s.
Barbara Chambers replaced Lillabel West as headmaster in 1962. She had an education degree and gave the school the necessary background to move forward as a legitimate school. She was followed by Elliott Galloway in 1965. Growth became more rapid under his tenure, adding two grades a year for each year. At that time, the school served pre-school through eighth grade and was incorporated as Holy Innocents’ Parish School, Inc. with the rectory establishing and serving as the Board of Trustees. The majority of the board members were required to be Episcopalian and had to be members of the Holy Innocents’ Parish. The new corporation was owned by the vestry and the warden of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church.
The limited space made the newly added grades an overcrowding issue. The decision to drop the newly established ninth grade just months into its inaugural year was not popular with Galloway, who resigned shortly afterward. He was replaced by Dr. J. Russell “Rusty” Frank in 1969. Frank felt controlled growth was necessary and that seventh grade was as high as Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School would go until a feasibility study was conducted. He also believed that athletics were important, and he hired an athletic director to established a sports program. The school played its first soccer game that fall. It was also in 1969 that the first African-American student joined the student body at Holy Innocents.’
In 1970 the school’s name was changed to Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, Inc. and a new approach toward growth came with the first capital campaign, “Blueprint for a Decade.” Through its three phases, this capital campaign added buildings for classrooms and offices, a library, a gym, and classrooms for music and art. Alice Malcolm, former parent volunteer and teacher, became interim headmaster in 1975. She saw the school through its first accreditation process with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Del Coggins was appointed headmaster the following year. In 1981, the school was able to purchase another much needed eight acres from Life of Georgia, an insurance company. This purchase more than doubled the campus’ size and made it possible to build an athletic field. When Del Coggins resigned as headmaster, Alice Malcolm was appointed headmaster, and Edward England became assistant headmaster.
The CHI (Classrooms for Humanities and Imagination) Campaign was completed in 1988 and created the space that housed classrooms for music and art as well as an auditorium which seats 356. That same year the opportunity to expand again presented itself when Fulton County decided to sell the James L. Riley Elementary School and its 11 acres. The “Continuation in Excellence” capital campaign began in 1989 to renovate the newly acquired Riley Elementary School which made an Upper School possible. And in 1991, a ninth grade was added – those students would become the first graduating class.
In 1993, another opportunity came for expansion with the purchase of 3.3 acres of land bringing it to its present 43 acres. At that time HIES ranked fourth in size among the Atlanta independent schools with 1,140 students which also made it the largest Episcopal school in the continental United States.
In 1996, Dr. Susan R. Groesbeck was named headmaster who saw the advancement of technology at the school and the launch of its first website. She was replaced by Kirk Duncan in 2003 who rolled out a pioneer laptop program, putting laptops in the hands of every student. Gene Bratek took over as headmaster in 2011 and oversaw the renovation of Alumni Hall and experienced a shift with the rector no longer also serving as Chairman of the Board of the school. Paul Barton took over as headmaster in 2014 and supervised the construction of the state-of-the-art STEM building.
Today HIES is the largest parish day school in the United States, and the major parochial school in the Diocese. As the only Episcopal PK3-12 school in Georgia, it offers a co-educational experience for youths with a focus on the individual, encouraging students to explore their abilities and the world around them in a loving and nurturing environment. Residing among neighborhoods in Sandy Springs, it possesses a unique community feeling for its students and their families, tucked away from the big city. It is accredited by Cognia and the Southern Association of Independent Schools and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools, the Southern Association of Independent Schools, the Georgia Independent School Association, the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools, the Secondary School Admission Test Board and the Georgia High School Association.