It’s not like other Atlanta schools.
The leaders of Atlanta Classical Academy, Buckhead’s public charter school, take pride in their school’s differences. Those differences set the year-old school apart.
“We’re definitely counter-cultural,” board chairman Matthew Kirby said.
But not in the ‘60s, tie-dyed kind of way.
At this school, students wear uniforms. They study Latin. They learn history, not social studies. They read novels. They memorize and recite poetry. They don’t bring iPads or iPhones to class. They study music and the visual arts.
“It’s basically the education my grandparents would have had, and it’s the education we’ve lost over the years,” said Dr. T.O. Moore, principal of the school. “It’s the education the Founding Fathers would have wanted.”
ACA’s students are taught to pursue happiness and the core values of “courage, courtesy, honesty, perseverance, self-control and service,” Kirby said. The hallways are decorated with oversized portraits of icons of American and Georgia history: Washington, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Andy Young, Ronald Reagan. The academy’s leaders avoid the Common Core, opting instead to build their curriculum the old-school way.
“Here’s the problem with today’s education: For the last 100 years, the American public has been sold a falsehood that whatever’s the latest should be taught,” Moore said. “… It’s the same thing as trying to read a newspaper when you don’t know anything about the Constitution and American history. You’re torn whichever way the headline is written.”
The academy is a public school financed with public money. But as a charter school, it’s free to go its own way, without the rules that guide most public schools. In return for that freedom, the school promises to produce students who perform better.
Parent Cindy Robbins, co-chair of the school’s Parent Teacher Community Association, says she thinks the experiment works for her three children. They had attended Sarah Smith Elementary, their neighborhood school, and “I was not an unhappy parent.” But she liked the size of the academy and what it stood for, she said, so she enrolled her children. “Having three children, it was a big decision for us,” she said, “but it’s been very positive.”
Her children tell her they enjoy school. “When I would pick up my kids from car pools, all three of them were fighting to tell me about their day,” she said. “In the past, it would be like, ‘What did you do in school today? What did you learn today?’ ‘Nothing.’ …
“They’ve all enjoyed learning about the classics and learning through the classics. I think it’s been challenging for them. All three tell me they love school. How many kids say that?”
The academy completed its first year of operation in May and is preparing for its second year. “We had a good first year,” Kirby said. “We got a lot of things right and we learned a ton.”
The student body will grow from the 486 enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade last year to 540 as the school adds a ninth grade. Eventually, it will provide all 12 grades and enroll about 700 students. Kirby said the school has 1,400 names on its waiting list.
“Our enrollment comes from all over the city of Atlanta,” Kirby said. “I was pleased with the number of folks who knew about the school. The word is out. People are eager for choices.”
Kirby, who owns and operates a group of restaurants, says he got interested in the idea for a classic charter school in Atlanta when he started thinking about his own children’s education. His employees gave him an idea of the kind of graduates local schools produced. “I know what it looks like when you’re limited by your education,” he said.
The school’s board members recruited Moore, an expert on charter startups and former principal of a similar school in Colorado, to run the Atlanta school. Kirby and Moore said their children now attend the Atlanta academy.
In addition to being taught academic subjects, they will learn about character at the academy, Kirby said. Where most schools leaders talk about college and careers, “we view things a little bit differently,” he said.
“A major goal, we think, of education is for adults to raise the eyes of their students to things that are noble and good, and not base and narcissistic. It’s about hope and high expectations.”
The school’s emphasis on “making good citizens and educating thoughtful citizens” is part of what convinced Meredith Batemen, the other co-chair of the PTCA, to enroll her children in the school. “It spoke to me,” she said. “I absolutely believe in the U.S. Constitution and I feel our Founding Fathers are revered at the Classical Academy.”
These days, Kirby said, the academy offers a different way of looking at things. “This is what schools were a couple of generations ago,” Kirby said. “And interestingly, it seems to be in high demand.”