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Webb School of Knoxville appoints new school president
September 26, 2022

KNOXVILLE -- Webb School of Knoxville’s Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Ansel Sanders as Webb School’s ninth president, succeeding Michael McBrien, who announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. The appointment follows an intensive search launched last February. Sanders is currently Assistant Headmaster and Dean of Students at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, a boarding school for boys in grades 9 through 12 and one of the top boarding schools in the United States.

webb school sanders family
Sanders family: Dr. Ansel Sanders, Helen Sanders and their three daughters. Image submitted

“Webb School is truly operating from a position of strength,” says Misty Mayes, Webb Board of Trustees Chair, who shared the news of Sanders’ appointment with the Webb community earlier this week. “Its focus on tailored learning along with the progress made by incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum requires Webb to think boldly and creatively. We’re excited by what Ansel will bring to the table in this next chapter of solidifying our place as the top independent school in the region.”

Considered an accomplished innovator, leader, connector, and community builder, Sanders brings to Webb School a range of experience that spans the K-12 education sector. In his position at Woodberry Forest, he is responsible for integrating all aspects of student life and affairs into the school’s academic, residential, co-curricular, and extracurricular programs. In addition, his work as a principal member of the Executive Leadership Team focuses on evaluating and enhancing the student experience, which includes collaborating with colleagues on such efforts as the school’s “wholeness” initiative and community and belonging programming. Sanders has also forged partnerships with external organizations to design mission-aligned programs and services.

Formerly, Sanders was President and Chief Executive Officer of Public Education Partners, a nonprofit education foundation in Greenville, South Carolina. In that capacity, he brought businesses, educators, philanthropies, and elected officials together to support, strengthen and advance educational outcomes and student achievement through programming and advocacy.

Over the course of his career, Sanders also helped establish and lead innovative STEM-based elementary and middle schools in Greenville, including serving as founding director of the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering, the first urban school built in Greenville in over 40 years and the first elementary school in South Carolina with a schoolwide engineering curriculum. That post led to an appointment by the Superintendent of Greenville County Schools to spearhead the planning of the new STEAM-centered Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School. In addition, while pursuing his Doctorate in Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Sanders forged school-community partnerships for the Tennessee Achievement School District in Memphis, Tennessee, to support student success and well-being.

Sanders’ professional journey has also been characterized by a love for students and classroom teaching. He has taught middle school English and joined Teach For America early in his career. In addition to his administrative duties at Woodbery, Sanders teaches a senior-level English class, serves as a lacrosse coach and student advisor, and oversees the school’s summer programs.

Sanders and his wife, Helen, have three daughters. He graduated magna cum laude from Washington and Lee University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and was an NCAA men’s lacrosse All-American. He went on to complete a Master of Arts in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in school leadership from Furman University, in addition to earning his doctorate from Harvard.

While the search for Webb School’s next president delivered a highly qualified pool of candidates from across the country, Sanders clearly stood out, according to John Tolsma, co-chair of Webb’s Presidential Search Committee and former Webb Board Chair. “Ansel brings a set of experiences that will strengthen the school and will help us build deep relationships throughout the Knoxville community and the larger region,” says Tolsma. “Education is being reimagined and rethought every day, and Ansel brings an electric passion for innovating while building on the culture and values embraced by Robert Webb in founding Webb School in 1955.”

In accepting the position, Sanders said he was honored, humbled and thrilled to serve as Webb’s next president, and “my family and I are excited to put down roots in Knoxville,” he noted. Sanders added, “I am deeply appreciative for this opportunity to succeed Michael McBrien and build on the school’s storied commitment to excellence, and I look forward to exploring what’s next alongside Webb’s tremendous faculty, staff, students, families, and alumni community.”

Webb School of Knoxville was ranked No. 1 for best private K-12 school, best high school for STEM, best private high school, and best college prep private high school in Knox County by for 2022. Webb was also ranked among the top three best high schools for athletes in Knox County and earned a No. 6 distinction for best private K-12 school in Tennessee. Established in 1955, Webb School is a Pre-K through 12th grade independent, coed day school. Webb School is the only private, independent Pre-K - 12th grade school within a 100-mile radius of Knox County. For more information, visit

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