In 1958, Barbara Young Simms began to explore the possibility of re-starting an independent girls day school in Albuquerque. In 1965, with the help of a group of likeminded parents, she secured land, established a board of trustees and formed the Sandía School, a nonsectarian school.

In late January 1966, the Rev. Paul G. Saunders, an Episcopal priest, was selected headmaster and, later that year, the school opened. The year began with 75 students in grades 5 through 10 and finished with 82 students. Grade 11 was added the following year and grade 12 in fall 1968.  Paul Saunders served as headmaster for the first three years.


In 1969, Orell Phillips served as interim headmaster while the school's board searched for a new head. In 1970, Mose Hale became third headmaster. Three years later, Sandia School became coeducational. In 1974, Elton Knutson was selected as fourth headmaster.

The school began to refer to itself as Sandia Preparatory School during the 1975-76 academic year. Fifth-grade classes were discontinued in the 1985-86 school year.

In the summer of 1986, Dick Heath joined Sandia Prep as its fifth headmaster. Under Mr. Heath’s direction, admission to Sandia Prep grew from 270 students in 1986 to 650 students in 2010. Among Mr. Heath’s accomplishments were the creation of a 20-year plan in 2000 and a master site plan in 2006. He led the school through three successful capital campaigns, resulting in the school’s first $1 million gifts and the construction of more than 90% of the campus facilities seen today. In January 2002, under Mr. Heath’s leadership, Sandia Prep launched a four-year, $5.3 million campaign for buildings and endowment, the largest fundraising effort in the School’s history. Completed in January 2006, The Campaign for Sandia Prep funded the addition of a new college counseling area, the 15,000-square-foot Russell Student Center, a library expansion and the Barbara Young Simms Classroom Building, a 25,000-square-foot, 20-classroom facility named for the school’s founder. The Campaign also added more than $1.3 million in gifts to Sandia Prep's endowment, including a portion to fund increased need-based financial aid. The school later added a $5 million, 24,000-square-foot Field House (August 2008) and the $5 million, 24,000-square-foot McCall Performing Arts Center (August 2009). After successfully leading the school for 24 years, Dick Heath retired in June 2010.

Steve Albert became Sandia Prep's sixth Head of School in July 2010. Prior to coming to Sandia Prep, Albert was Associate Head of School and Dean of Faculty at The Hotchkiss School, where he served as a teacher and administrator from 1993 to 2010.  Under Mr. Albert's leadership, Sandia Prep completed a comprehensive curriculum review; with the Board of Trustees, developed the School's next strategic plan; increased the School’s commitment to environmental sustainability; strengthened global studies; dedicated the Heath Sports Complex; and celebrated the naming of the McCall Performing Arts Center and McCall Family TheaterIn May 2014, Steve Albert informed the Board of Trustees, the faculty and the SPS community that the following year would be his last at Sandia Prep. The Board of Trustees offered and Steve accepted a terminal sabbatical which began June 6, 2014.  Sandia Prep's Board unanimously agreed to appoint Joyce Whelchel as Interim Head of School.

Interim Head of School Joyce Whelchel has been part of the Sandia Prep community for 17 years, as a teacher, administrator and parent.  Over the course of her tenure, Ms. Whelchel has served in multiple leadership roles:  as 9th/10th Grade Dean, 11th/12th Grade Dean, Interim Assistant Head of School, and most recently, as Assistant Head for Student Life.  Throughout her tenure, she has continued to teach as a member of our Science department.  Before coming to Sandia Prep, Whelchel's professional experience included management, banking and business.  Most importantly, Joyce Whelchel knows our Sandia Prep family.  She knows and is respected by our faculty and staff; she knows our students and our families; and she knows our alumni and the members of our wider school community.  According to SPS Chair Lorna Wiggins, "Joyce is extraordinarily qualified to guide our school during the next year."

Sandia Prep has begun the process to identify our next Head of School. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has recruited a group of individuals who share the culture of the School and reflect a cross section of the SPS community to serve as members of the Search Committee. All members of the Sandia Prep family, including parents, faculty and staff, alumni, parents of alumni and supporters, will be invited to provide input for the search process.  The Board of Trustees expects to have a new Head of School in place by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.



School History Published

Constant Possum: A History of Sandia Preparatory School, by former SPS archivist and faculty member Lou Liberty, was published in 2000.


Transitions and Legacy - SPS at 50, also written by former SPS archivist and faculty member Lou Liberty, was published as a supplement to Constant Possum in 2010.

Copies of each of these books are available through Sandia Prep.


SPS Advancement Office

The Original Sandía School 

Sandia Prep’s predecessor was the original Sandía School, a private day and boarding school for girls founded by Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms (Barbara Young Simms' aunt) in 1932. Its first year, Sandía School held classes for five students and one teacher in a private house where Manzano Day School is now located. The school was formed in part to help prepare girls for further study or college in the Eastern United States.


In 1937, the school moved to a new permanent campus (now part of Kirtland Air Force Base). Mrs. Simms commissioned architect John Gaw Meem to design the school complex in the territorial style. By 1938, the school had 75 students, nine of whom were boarders, and 18 faculty. In 1942, due to World War II, Sandía School closed. A number of alumnae from the first Sandía School actively participated in the organization of the current Sandia Prep School.