Joanne, who was St. Andrew’s first science teacher when its doors opened in 1978, was the soul of St. Andrew's, shaping the supportive, student-centered, loving culture that we continue to cherish today.
A native of Mercerville, N.J. and a graduate of Western Maryland College, she taught science in Baltimore public high schools right out of college before taking a break to raise her two sons, Mike (St. Andrew’s Class of 1988) and Pete. When it was time to return to the workforce, she began looking for a new teaching position. She saw a Washington Post classified ad seeking a science teacher for a new school, interviewed the following day, and was offered a contract on the spot by founding headmaster Jess Borg.
While teaching science for three years, she saw the school’s enrollment nearly quadruple, leading her to take on the role of Director of Student Activities. Later, she became Dean of Students and, beginning with the 2000-2001 school year, she became Head of Upper School. She remained head of the division until she semi-retired after the 2011-2012 school year when she became the school’s first alumni liaison. In 2015, the school’s front circle was renamed the Joanne Beach Circle.
“Something Jess Borg told me when I interviewed for the position of chemistry teacher in 1979 (was) Joanne Beach is the kind of person you can rely on to get the horses out of the barn if it catches on fire,” said Irene Walsh, who herself retired in June after 39 years at St. Andrew’s. “That has been true since that time down to the present day.”
During her nearly four decades at St. Andrew’s, Joanne, who was well-known for being moved to tears at the drop of a hat, touched the lives of thousands of students and their families.
“Ms. Beach coached me through one of the most pivotal times of my life,” Alex George ‘95 said. “At 14 years old, my father passed away very suddenly right before the beginning of my freshman year. The first few months of transitioning to high school and adjusting to the loss of my dad were rough. If it hadn’t been for Ms. Beach’s guidance and genuine care for my well-being, who knows how the rest of high school would have played out. She taught me what it means to be generous of spirit and give unconditionally to others.”
In 2012, when it was announced that Beach was semi-retiring, alumni were given the opportunity to share stories about her. Susan Howard, a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1982, recalled that her class’s yearbook was dedicated to Ms. Beach.
“We all loved and respected her tremendously,” Howard said. “I went to Western Maryland College because of Ms. Beach and have been an elementary school teacher for the last twenty-four years. She had a huge impact on our tiny graduating class.”
Sarah Hulen Eckard, also a member of the first graduating class, had a similar recollection. “Her warmth, wisdom and sense of humor came through in the classroom, and from there her special relationship with our class just naturally grew over several years,” Eckard said.
Beach also had a similar impact on her colleagues.
“Joanne made a huge impact on the school from day one through her dedication and love for the students and the school,” said long-time colleague and current Head of Upper School Ginger Cobb. “She was always ‘all in’ where the school and students were concerned. From tent/hall decorations to sporting events to discipline, she did it all and did it with care and support. Whether she was enjoying a student event or having a difficult conversation with a student, we all knew her core philosophy was to create and nurture a vibrant learning community. She also was a valuable mentor for faculty and administrators alike throughout her time at St. Andrew’s.”
“As a biology teacher, she taught students about growth and themselves,” said Assistant Head of School David Brown, who worked with Beach for more than 20 years, serving as Assistant Head of Upper School when Beach was Head of Upper School. “As a Dean of Students, Joanne never enjoyed disciplining students, but knowing that it was necessary, she did it in a way that encouraged growth. As an administrator, she nurtured growth in the faculty. She knew when to listen and when to step in and help. Like an experienced gardener, Joanne cultivated growth in the students and colleagues with whom she worked. Joanne was a great friend and colleague who will be sorely missed.”
Beach is survived by her children, Mike and Pete, their wives, Katie and Terri, respectively, and her grandchildren, Ryan, Olivia, Kasey and Evan. Fittingly, during today’s All Saints’ Eucharist, Joanne was remembered by name among the saints from our St. Andrew’s community who have died this past year.