Atlanta Classical Academy opened in 2014, as a K–8 school. Today, it runs to twelfth grade and has 690 students, with a waiting list of 1,500 kids.
A sister school opened in 2021 a few miles north in Kennesaw, Georgia, called Northwest Classical Academy. At that time, it served grades K–6. Now, two years later, it runs through ninth grade, enrolls 700 students, and has a waiting list of 1,000.
It's a pattern that's becoming commonplace. A few parents and an entrepreneur come together to envision an alternative school built on classical lines, and within a few years they have to turn away dozens or hundreds of applicants because they don't have the space. Demand exceeds supply.
In the case of Atlanta Classical, Matthew Kirby—an engineer and real estate businessman, not a professional educator—found a few parents who were dissatisfied with the public school options in the city. They favored a classical model, and visited the Ridgeview Classical Schools in Colorado to see how that model might work in a charter school setting. More guidance came from the Barney Charter School Initiative at Hillsdale College.
Within one year of opening, the waiting list broke 1,000, which encouraged Kirby and his team to add the older grades. With Northwest Academy seeing even faster growth, Kirby and his team have formed an umbrella organization, Liberty Classical Schools Foundation, which aims to launch ten more classical schools in the next ten years and serve more than 9,000 kids. I think the optimism is justified.
The content of the curriculum is a big draw. Third-graders learn Greek mythology, fifth-graders read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Frederick Douglass, sixth-graders A Midsummer Night's Dream. Tenth grade is British literature, eleventh grade American literature, twelfth grade Modern European lit. Grades nine and ten take Western Civilization I and II for history. A semester of moral philosophy is required as well, plus a semester of American government.
There is much more (engineering, music, theatre). Of course, I can imagine many teachers and parents looking at the requirements and muttering, “You gotta be kidding.” When only 14 percent of eighth-graders like reading enough to pick up a book for fun every few days and when reading scores continue to decline (while screen time goes up and up and up), those assignments appear ridiculously difficult. Shakespeare for twelve-year-olds? Douglass's Narrative in elementary school? No way.
There is a simple response to that skepticism: the waiting list. Those bare numbers make the case. Applicants keep coming. And as Mr. Kirby told me last week, they come from all across the Atlanta metropolitan area and from every demographic.
There is another classical school in the area, this one a Catholic school, not a charter. It's the Chesterton Academy of Atlanta, also located in Kennesaw. It's a tiny program that is part of the Chesterton network. It has only ten students this year, all ninth-graders, but the leaders expect to add a grade each year for the next three years and eventually become a full high school. It's not a competitor of Northwest Classical Academy; it's too Catholic for that. Headmaster Taylor Bettencourt (who came over from Atlanta Classical) states on the site that the school's goal is to lead “young minds closer to Christ and to see the beauty of the Catholic faith through their studies.” Father Neil Dhabliwala, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena, is chair of the school's board of directors (he co-founded the school with Charissa Saenz).
Each day begins with Mass. The curriculum includes the Bible, the Catholic Catechism, and papal documents. Faculty and staff have taken the Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Tuition is only $8,700 per child. Because the academy begins with ninth grade, entering students take the Classic Learning Test's CLT8 Placement Exam.
It's an experiment that has just begun, small now but with all the ingredients of success. If we didn't know anything about classical schools in the last ten years, that small group of ninth-graders might not sound very promising. But recent history makes the Chesterton Academy of Atlanta a very good bet in the next five years.
Mark Bauerlein is a contributing editor at First Things.
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