August 18, 2015 10:42:31 AM
When Chad Edmonson calls the Mississippi School for Math and Science "the best economic development program Mississippi has ever developed," you might be inclined to dismiss the statement as the hyperbole of a proud alumnus.
But the 1999 MSMS graduate has some credibility when it comes to investments.
A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelors of Science in Economics from the university's famed Wharton business school, Edmonson spent 12 years at the Wall Street investment firm, W.P. Carey, Inc., where he was involved with approximately $1.5 billion in deals, and led his team on more than $500 million of that total.
Earlier this year, Edmonson returned home to Mississippi to take over the small investment firm his father started in Hattiesburg.
At 34, Edmonson has done very, very well for himself. He attributes much of the credit for that to his experience at MSMS.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without MSMS," he says. "I give credit to my parents, first, but MSMS is a close second."
This week, Edmonson gave more than credit; he gave the school the biggest single donation in its history, writing the school a check for more than $60,000 to cover the costs of three additional students for the Class of 2017.
"It's not the first time I've given to MSMS and it won't be the last," he says. "I just believe so strongly in what MSMS is doing. It really is a great investment by the state. For every dollar the state spends at MSMS, it gets $10 back in taxes from people like me. That's a pretty good return on an investment, don't you think?"
For years, Mississippi has lamented the "brain drain" where its brightest and best leave the state for better opportunities. MSMS is routinely ranked among the nation's best high schools. The 106-member 2015 graduating class produced 11 National Merit Finalists (that's one-in-10 students), received academic scholarships offers of more than $22 million, had an average ACT score of 28 and an average SAT score of 1857. Those graduates are now enrolled in many of the finest colleges in the nation.
If ever there was a group of students who would be most representative of the "brain drain," it's MSMS graduates.
But like Edmonson, many return to Mississippi to live and work.
"The data shows 35-to-40 percent of MSMS graduates come back to Mississippi," he says. "And that number will go up because there are a lot of graduates who, like me, will work in other places until they get established and then return. Of the 60 percent who haven't returned, more than half say they intend to come back."
Edmonson has been a member of the MSMS Foundation, the school's private fund-raising group, since shortly after he went to Wall Street. He has given before, but this week's donation is the biggest and based on what he sees as a critical moment in the school's history.
MSMS is a public high school. Unlike other public high schools, it is run and funded by the Mississippi Department of Education, drawing students from throughout the state. Also unlike other public high schools, MSMS can adjust its enrollment based on funding levels.
For some time now, K-12 education funding provided by the state has fallen short. In response, MSMS has reduced its enrollment by 15 percent over the last four years, from 265 students to 225.
"At some point, you can't continue to cut students," Edmonson said. "There's a threshold you can reach where it begins to affect the quality of the education you can provide. My hope is that this will inspire the community to step up and keep MSMS going strong. When I was at MSMS, they never had to think about cutting students to make ends meet. Now, it's a different situation, which is very disturbing to me.
"I know how much MSMS means to the state because I know how much it has meant to me. It was everything for me."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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