Spartanburg Day School’s seventh head of school, Rachel Deems, has been awarded the State of South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto.
The Order of the Palmetto was established by Gov. John C. West in 1971, to recognize individuals for a lifetime of extraordinary achievement, service, and contributions on a national or statewide scale. Deems – who is concluding her tenure with SDS after 11 years of leadership – joins an esteemed group of South Carolinians who have received this honor by giving selflessly of their time, resources, and goodwill for the betterment of their communities and beyond.
Rep. Max Hyde made the presentation during commencement exercises Friday morning, recognizing Deems for outstanding contributions to the field of education and an unwavering dedication to shaping the lives of students.
“On behalf of the governor of the great State of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, it is a privilege to present the state’s highest civilian honor – the Order of the Palmetto – to our head of school, Rachel Deems,” Hyde said. “This award recognizes a lifetime of achievement as a servant leader and pioneer in independent school education. The Palmetto State is grateful to Mrs. Deems for all that she has done to nurture and prepare students for careers of consequence.”
Deems was named Spartanburg Day School’s first-ever female head in 2012. Under her leadership, SDS benefited from a comprehensive rebranding effort, experienced record enrollment growth, surpassed strategic endowment initiatives, added two new preschool grades, and has seen several upgrades and additions to its campus – all while maintaining excellence in academics, arts, and athletics.
Her career in education spans 44 years, including more than 24 spent sharing an engaging and inspiring life’s work with students, colleagues, and families in three independent schools. Before joining SDS, she served at two independent schools in Georgia – as head of school at The Westfield School for four years and as director of development at Stratford Academy for nine years.
Prior to her independent school tenure, Deems served as chief administrative officer, assistant provost, and dean of students at Mercer University and director of alumnae affairs and vice president at Judson College. At both institutions, she gained valuable leadership and administrative experience in the areas of advancement, student affairs, strategic planning, and finance.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Deems is active in the community, having volunteered for organizations including the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, United Way of the Piedmont, Globalbike, the Rotary Club, and the Spartanburg Regional Hospital System. She also formerly served as a board member of both the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA). Deems has served as an SAIS accreditation team leader, and in 2022, she received the SAIS Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her long and distinguished career in independent education.
Michel Stone, SDS board trustee and chair of the search committee for the incoming head of school, wrote the nomination letter for Deems.
“It was my honor to nominate Rachel Deems for the Order of the Palmetto,” Stone said. “In her role as the first female Head of School at Spartanburg Day School, she has had a transformational impact on the Spartanburg community and beyond. As a parent, member of the school’s Board of Trustees, and chair of the search committee to find Mrs. Deems’ successor, I’ve witnessed first-hand her unwavering passion for educating children and preparing them for a life well-lived. She is a steadfast leader who champions academics, athletics, and the arts.”