by Audra H. Anders for The Aha! Connection
In 2000, right about the time I was becoming a mom for the second time, Angela Naples didn’t realize it, but she was about to be one of the founders of Atlanta Academy. My family moved from Brookhaven to Dunwoody right before the start of the school year in 2002. At that time, my kids were attending The Preschool at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, and we commuted to Buckhead for the first school year. Every year my husband and I evaluated each son’s academic progress and where we thought they would thrive. All in all, they spent most of their time in public schools, but we chose private for a few years. During all those years of parenting, Atlanta Academy was a place that I slowly kept hearing about more and more. Eventually, several of my neighbors with children younger than mine started regularly choosing Atlanta Academy over Peachtree Middle School. I’ve been more and more curious to learn about them and was thrilled to be invited to tour last week.
When Peggy and I tour businesses and interview clients, it typically takes no more than 90 minutes. I was shocked to be leaving three total hours after we started the tour. There was that much to see and learn….seriously.
Angela Naples started her education journey at Christ the King and taught there for several years before moving to the Donnellan School. After a few years of teaching in the classroom, Angela was appointed Head of School. When the school changed ownership, several families approached Angela, asking for help to start a home school for their children. Angela said, “if you can find me the space, I can start a school.” The new school, Atlanta Academy, was started by parents who raised a quarter of a million dollars as seed money in less than two weeks.
“When we founded the school and opened our doors on November 1, 2000, with nine families, thirteen students, and four faculty members, the possibility of failure never occurred to me. I never stopped to think about how hard it would be or whether or not we could do it. I had a mission and a vision in mind, and my team and I set about making it happen without hesitation or looking back. The faculty and parents that believed in me were all the assurance I needed. We started from humble beginnings, and there were some tough times, but we managed to keep a positive “can do” attitude and persevered.”
They initially found a place at The Cathedral of St. Philip to use as a school space for the original 13 kids. However, by the end of the month, they had grown to 90 children and needed to find a larger facility. The founding parents became the Board of Trustees, named the school Atlanta Academy, and incorporated. The faculty and students moved to rented space at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, where the school continued to grow for 7 years. At that point, Atlanta Academy was K-8th and growing out of the SSUMC space with over 200 students. Again, it was time to search for expansion space, but with the property prices being so expensive in Buckhead and Sandy Springs, they visited an empty strip mall in Roswell. However, although it was a bit further north, it was still out of their price range.
The following weekend, a chance encounter at Starbucks between Angela and the strip mall property manager led to him inquiring about her interest in the property. She let him know it was “out of their league” financially. He strongly encouraged her to at least “make an offer.” Angela and the Board laid out a 5-year plan based on enrollment growth, went back, and made an offer, and it was accepted!
The Atlanta Academy’s landlord was now the Malon D Mimms Company. So when Malon Mimms himself called to invite her to breakfast, Angela was concerned he had changed his mind about the 5-year plan. She took a board member to the breakfast with her and quickly learned Malon had NOT changed his mind. In fact, he told her after researching her and the school background, he had decided to donate the entire property to Atlanta Academy! I personally got chills when she told me this and have them now just typing the story again! What a gift!
As property owners, the school has been able to TRANSFORM an ugly strip mall hodge-podge space into a beautiful state-of-the-art Pre-K-8th grade campus. It is gorgeous. Just walking around and seeing the pride on the teachers’ faces is worth the visit alone. The admissions director (Kristi McCarthy) has been with Angela since her Christ the King days, and she gushes with pride and love for the school and the amazing transformation of the building. Angela, Kristi, and Stephanie (Marketing Director) toured with Peggy and me, and I swear…each of them knows every single enrolled student by name. Atlanta Academy now serves more than 380 private preschool-8th-grade students and their families in North Atlanta.
In 2019, Angela took a short break for an opportunity to teach in Genoa, Italy. Who could pass that up? She came back stateside early due to Covid and finished the year teaching virtually. Shannon Dishman was head of the middle school at Atlanta Academy and had taken over for Angela as Head of School. There were no openings at Atlanta Academy, so Angela called a friend and ended up teaching for one year at a Roswell Charter School and said it was a GREAT experience to be back in the classroom for a change. Shannon Dishman led Atlanta Academy for three years during the pandemic and did an excellent job but needed to step back to take care of an aging family member. So…Angela was invited to return as Head of School and has been back since June of 2022.
After such an amazing history lesson and tour, I asked our tour guides: “Why are parents sending their kids to Atlanta Academy? Kristi and Stephanie immediately said in harmony: “because of the culture of Atlanta Academy that Angela established from the beginning. She instills a sense of community and fosters strong connections between students, faculty, and families. She founded the school with a group of teachers, and that philosophy of ‘teachers first’ remains unchanged to this day.” Angela said, “Because of the teachers. They are so incredibly invested in their profession and passionate about engaging their students. They continue to hone their skills to make their teaching methods relevant.” She allows the teachers to shine. She embraces their ideas. She knows what it’s like to be in a classroom. It’s hard. She says every principal should go back into a classroom (like she did last year). She listens to her people. She is always open to ideas and receptive to feedback. They have many small department meetings to discuss the students’ social and emotional needs. All curriculum has a community consensus among teachers. Angela really focuses on keeping good people who look for creative ways to engage their students actively and are invested in their success. The preschool at Atlanta Academy was “born” because many teachers were young moms who wanted to keep working but have their kids cared for on-site. Angela has kept many excellent teachers by offering nursery and pre-K after maternity leave. Here’s what the Atlanta Academy Parents say about why they chose the school.
Stephanie Kashdan is the marketing manager and has worked at Atlanta Academy for 6 years but was a parent first. When I asked her: “What made you decide to come to this school?” She explained she lived nearby and was touring Kindergarten options, and a friend suggested Atlanta Academy. She called to schedule a tour, and Angela answered the phone and said: “Just stop by now, and I’ll be happy to show you our school.” Stephanie said she knew immediately Atlanta Academy was the place for her daughter…she just had “that feeling.” The teachers knew every child. The building didn’t look the way it does now, yet she could see through the walls, and she still had that feeling. She and her husband enrolled her daughter that evening. As time progressed and the school grew, so was the administrative staff. When Angela offered her the Marketing job, she jumped at the chance!
Kristi McCarthy, our third tour guide, has known Angela since her Christ the King days. She immediately knew she would follow Angela to the new school where she enrolled her daughters. Angela hired her as the Art teacher, and eventually, Kristi moved to the Director of Admissions, and she really now is the face of the school.
Angela said something during our conversation that I have said to others often. “If you can only afford a few years of private school tuition, spend it on middle school.” To sum things up….I came home and told my husband that if the Atlanta Academy I toured today had been in existence when our boys were in middle school, we would have strongly considered sending them there. I know this article is getting long, so I’ll stop here. For those of you interested in a private school for Pre-K through 8th grade, call and ask Kristi for a tour and check out their website for all the details about the school!
The Atlanta Academy Mission:
Atlanta Academy believes in developing innovative thinkers and adaptive learners who are flexible and prepared for the global future. Our mission is to give every student the individual attention they need to succeed.
This is at the core of everything we do.
2000 Holcomb Woods Parkway
Roswell, GA 30076