As many metro Atlanta private schools returned to in-person learning, they found ways to provide the normalcy that kids, teachers (and even parents) craved, blending the traditional offerings that students love with new and unique learning opportunities amid the ongoing pandemic. read more
By Alexandra McCray
As the school year gets underway, students at many metro Atlanta private schools are reaping the benefits of academic updates, campus enhancements and new staff. Long-term planning, an openness to new ideas and the support of generous donors are helping these institutions continue to best serve their students. Read on for a closer look at what’s new.
At the heart of any school are its curriculum and approaches. Lakeview Academy, in part, attributes the success of its students to an emphasis on ensuring that key skills are reinforced across all subjects and that students develop a deep understanding of material that will be applied in the following grade. This school year, a new K-12 academic alignment, The Building Blocks of a Complete Education, is being implemented. For the sixth through 12th grades, new pacing guides are also going into effect to ensure the alignment has accountability and day-to-day steps, explains Wade Hanse, Ed.D., dean of academics and instruction.
“It’s amazing, the energy and collaboration that emerges from these pacing meetings with all math teachers or English teachers in a room together planning for the good of the students,” says Hanse. “These connections between teachers allow Lakeview to trace academic issues to their roots rather than mitigate trends on the surface. This helps raise the academic bar post-Covid.”
While Lakeview Academy was reviewing its academic alignment, the faculty at Springmont School was doing some revising of its own. The team took a closer look at the fine arts curriculum and its various components. “Beginning last year and continuing into the 2022-23 school year, these programs are being collaboratively reevaluated and reimagined, ensuring they are age-appropriate and allow for greater diversity and self-expression,” says Julie Strickland, director of marketing and communication at the school, which serves children ages 18 months to 14 years old. In keeping with the school’s Montessori method, new performance and showcase opportunities give students more freedom while complementing classroom instruction and avenues to explore the arts outside of set teaching time, such as Open Art Studio and Open Music Studio. Following last year’s successful replacement of the annual lower elementary musical performance with the chance for each class to put on its own fall semester fine arts afternoon program and a spring semester performance, similar opportunities are being presented to older and younger learners. This fall, primary classes will incorporate art appreciation into an open house they will host, and upper elementary students will present a fine arts showcase. A new event—a middle school art and music show—is on the docket for spring as well.
At North Cobb Christian School, design now plays a major role in helping students learn, and an emphasis on it has even led to the construction of a new upper school facility. Today, upper school students have access to a state-of-the-art STEM center inside the facility that provides maker and collaboration spaces, physics and robotics labs, tools such as sewing and textile construction machines and more. The facility, which partially opened in 2020 and will have its second phase complete in 2024, has already helped support the new schoolwide Understanding by Design (UbD) initiative, which incorporates components such as project-based learning and student choice. Upper school business and STEM Academy students recently used the center’s CO2 laser engravers to create items to sell for charity. Other UbD-based projects carried out by students include commemorative virtual boards honoring Holocaust resistors and an interactive health expo.
“We are honing students’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Understanding by Design is about using what we know, in context, to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings,” says Dr. Chip Houston, assistant head of school at North Cobb Christian School. “The goal is for students to be able to make connections, collaborate and transfer their learning to impact the world around them.”
North Cobb Christian School is not the only metro Atlanta private school with a new campus addition. Campus growth and improvements have been on the uptick lately across multiple schools.
Though it doesn’t have an entire complex dedicated to design, Pace Academy is now home to a 1,100-plus-square-foot Design Thinking Lab. The lab is part of Pace’s new Kam Memar Lower School, a massive three-story addition to the school’s existing lower school classroom building, which pre-first through fifth grade students used last school year but officially opened in the spring of 2022. In addition to the creation of the Design Thinking Lab and adjacent science classroom, the lower school Academic Resource Center has been expanded and provides spaces for an increased staff to interact with students and parents; the center also includes areas for programs that encourage student collaboration and mentorship, explains Dorothy Hutcheson, head of lower school. In addition, students are likely most excited about what the school has dubbed “The World’s Greatest Playground,” accessible via oversized slides and climbing structures from the classroom building’s second story, plus the ground-level gymnasium. The new play space, which also incorporates ADA-accessible features, reinforces exploration, use of imagination and critical thinking through various elements like a whopping 11 slides, themed activity panels and ropes for climbing.
At Woodward Academy, students will soon be able to foster their creativity in the expanded and upgraded Richardson Hall on the school’s main campus in College Park. In addition to continuing to hold much of the campus’s upper school visual and performing arts space, Richardson Hall will feature a larger sculpture studio, jewelry studio and added orchestra program room, notes Steven Averett, editorial and creative manager. Slated to be complete in spring of 2023, the expansion will also include new office and collaboration spaces for the performing arts department, a dance studio and a storage area. And another place where students can create visual art is the new Pechter Family Digital Lab. In addition to a wide-format drawing tablet and 3D printer, the lab inside the Carlos Library provides students with other advanced technology and computer resources for various digital-based endeavors.
In Johns Creek, Mount Pisgah Christian School is making progress on its new preschool facility, which it began construction on in March of this year. Situated on the first floor of the lower school on the south campus, the 24,268-square-foot Stuart and Eulene Murray Academy preschool will open next summer and include 10 new classrooms, a theatre, an innovation center and indoor interactive and outdoor play spaces. According to Dr. Chris Harmon, head of school, “With the tools that this facility provides for our teachers in STEAM, fine arts, music, worship, dance and multi-sensory experiences, our students will be well prepared for learning in years to come.”
Youngsters have plenty to be eager about at Trinity School as well since they now have access to a new Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Center, which incorporates art and science and was built thanks to the school’s Inspire Excellence campaign. The initiative has also enabled the school to relocate and renovate upper elementary classrooms and complete its Early Elementary Dining Hall. Future plans for the school for children age 3 through sixth grade include enhancing its early elementary playground, constructing a multi-use recreation center and increasing its endowment support.
At the start of the year, the student-founded and student-run coffee shop at Mount Paran Christian School, Roost Coffee Co., expanded into a permanent retail storefront at the new Murray Innovation Center. The expansion was partially made possible by the shop’s founder successfully pitching a partnership to a MPCS alumnus and his father, who work together in a family coffee business. Always open to adapting to the needs of its customers, the coffee shop also pivoted at the beginning of the pandemic, when it launched an ordering website. Roost Coffee Co. was established after Zachary Fors, Class of 2021, secured an investment from Head of High School and Assistant Head of School Tawanna Rusk during his freshman year to offer beverages, light food and on-campus catering.
At The Westminster Schools, this is the second academic year that its new building, Barge Commons, has officially been open. “Barge Commons is classrooms and meeting spaces, offices and a chapel. But more than any single function, Barge Commons is the place our Westminster community both gathers and reaches out to our city and the wider world,” says Keith Evans, president. “The transparency and ability to see through the building were important because we want what happens in this building to be on display. We want to stimulate curiosity in this building. We want kids to come in, see a gathering and stop and look and see what’s going on.” The building also houses areas for departments such as the Glenn Institute for Philanthropy and Service Learning, a café and spots for studying.
For King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, the focus right now is on what’s happening outdoors and with athletics. Students will soon be able to spend even more time outside and enjoy a new softball field and two new baseball fields created on property the school acquired in the summer of 2021. In addition to making it possible for the school’s sports teams to host home games on their own campus, the property acquisition also comes with plans to convert the school’s current soccer field into a multi-purpose field, as well as build five tennis courts and a cross country trail using funds from the KRCS Be Bold campaign, explains Heni Jordan, director of development. The initiative also allowed the school to complete the buildout of the third floor of its high school.
New staff are also bringing vigor to private schools in the metro area. Sandy Springs’ The Mount Vernon School has a new Director of Innovation, Eduardo Milrud, PhD, to oversee iD, the school’s Innovation Diploma program for upper school students. “iD is not an elective but rather a school-within-a-school that awards credit for humanities; chemistry; biology; social entrepreneurship; maker, design, and engineering and arts that focus on graphic design and live event production,” Milrud says. “Over the years, the Innovation Diploma has become a national leading high school program focusing on innovation as a form of developing knowledge and tools applicable to every discipline. In the next few years, our team’s goal is to generate a more profound impact within our community and worldwide by enabling our students to realize the change they envision.” For eighth graders, the school has launched a middle school Impact Design Lab program, which will serve as a precursor to iD and emphasize community- focused problem-solving.
This academic year will also be an exciting one for high school students at Landmark Christian School. The school welcomed Dylan Curtis as the new high school principal this past summer, and this year is the first one students will spend in the school’s new high school building. Previously an abandoned public school, the facility was renovated and modernized inside and out, with highlights including indoor labs for aviation, science and engineering and an outdoor vegetable garden and courtyard. The school doesn’t plan to stop there. “This is the first phase in our growing high school offerings. We will continue to improve and add to this space,” says Walter Johnson, director of marketing and communications.
For Annunciation Day School, the year 2022 is a big one in general, as it marks the school’s 20th anniversary. Today, ADS has two accreditations, including its most recent recognition from Cognia, and serves students age 2 through eighth grade, though it originally started out as a preschool. “The school community, along with the church parish family at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, have supported various initiatives that have grown and developed the school,” says Sophia Tsiotsias, communications and development director, citing ADS’s Orton-Gillingham training for teachers and participating in the Metro Atlanta Athletic Conference (MAAC) as examples. An anniversary celebration will take place this fall at the school’s annual gala in October at the Hellenic Center of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation. Adam Greenwood, the new head of school, who hails from England, where he previously held similar positions, has also arrived—adding to the excitement of the 2022-2023 academic year.
As the world of education continues to evolve, metro Atlanta private schools prove they’re determined to move forward with it.
For more information, visit:
• Annunciation Day School
• King’s Ridge Christian School
• Lakeview Academy
• Landmark Christian School
• Mount Paran Christian School
• Mount Pisgah Christian School
• The Mount Vernon School
• North Cobb Christian School
• Pace Academy
• Springmont School
• Trinity School
• The Westminster Schools
• Woodward Academy