At KNOWAtlanta, we understand that for parents relocating to Atlanta, finding the right school for their child is a top priority. Whether you’re moving from another part of the metro area, a different state or another country entirely, finding a private school that will be a good fit for your children can seem like a massive undertaking without a little help — especially with so many top, diverse schools in close proximity. As with many major family decisions moving can bring about, it’s helpful to note the experiences of families in similar situations who made it all work and are happily settled into their new schools.
To help ease the transition, we profiled parents whose children attend several of the metro area’s best private schools to share their family’s relocation experience and make your own search a little easier when it came to finding the prefect independent school for their children.
Alvin and Charlene Dougal changed their plan to move to Marietta, settling in Cumming, to be as close as possible to Pinecrest Academy. Their priorities for their children’s school involved strong academic programs, IB elementary and middle years programs, strong theater and drama programs, music and art programs and opportunities for athletics.
While Pinecrest was initially not in their price range and didn’t meet their IB school preference, they made an appointment for a tour and were enamored by the beautiful campus, school offerings, staff and faculty and sense of home they immediately felt. “We knew this place was very special and our children would not only receive a high quality education but also their very souls would be nurtured and they could live out their Catholic faith with confidence,” says Charlene Dougal. “They have always been in public schools and we had wonderful experiences with all the schools they attended up to this point, but now we had found something even more fulfilling than we had expected.”
The Dougal children, Rachel (age 14) and Charlie (age 11), are enjoying the gender-separate education, small class sizes, uniforms and all the clubs, activities, sports and opportunities for service that Pinecrest has offered them. “Don’t just checkout test scores,” Dougal advises. “Visit the school: How well are the children behaving? What other types of learning or opportunities do you want for your children?”
For Kathleen and Corey Korpita, parents of Milana (age 7) and Nico (age 4), looking for a new home in Sandy Springs was heavily inspired by a decision to enroll their children in Springmont. “We are a diehard Montessori fan family!” Kathleen Korpita says. “Finding a school that understood the development of the child as a whole person, including social responsibility and independent thinking, was the most important in the selection of our Montessori school. Having the ASI certified Montessori curriculum was a non-negotiable for us. Plus, Springmont offers their land school, which is an opportunity for the children to get in touch with nature and the reality of the ‘five great lessons,’ the foundation on which Montessori is based.”
While Milana is enjoying learning karate and Nico gets to connect with animals in the classroom, specifically parakeets, the Korpitas are happy to know that their children are being taught how to learn rather than simply what to learn. “Springmont affords kids the opportunity to make self-directed decisions while completing mandatory work,” Korpita says. “Working in human resources, I understand that the world kids today will function in 15 years from now will look nothing like it does at present. Springmont equips kids to make the best decisions for their development because it harnesses passion and allows for creativity.”
She advises parents to have their top three priorities at-the-ready to ask administration upon visiting the school. “Independent schools are a very personal choice and they drive values and behaviors that will shape our society,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask what you might think is a difficult question because the answer will either support your educational values or show you you’re definitely not in the right environment.”
The Lovett School
Kim Norgaard and Robyn Curnow relocated to Atlanta in August 2014 from Johannesburg, South Africa, to work for CNN and are enjoying living in leafy Buckhead close to their children’s schools. Freya, age 8, is in third grade at The Lovett School and their youngest daughter, Hella, attends another area independent school. “Our daughters were in independent schools in South Africa, however the schools were much smaller and more intimate environments than bigger, U.S. educational establishments,” Curnow says. “We wanted our girls to be cocooned, protected and not thrown into a totally strange culturally unfamiliar environment. The ease at which both girls transitioned into American life is testament to the care given at their schools.”
Due to long-distance research while they were still in South Africa, the family had no idea what to expect as far as locations and neighborhoods. They got advice from friends and colleagues to help read between the lines on school websites. But during their school interviews in January 2014, when Atlanta experienced “Snowpocalypse,” they found the best schools for their daughters. “What is key is that both girls have made wonderful friends — they both have a solid base of playmates who welcomed these little African girls with strange accents,” Curnow says. “That’s been the most comforting for the whole family; even though they’re a little bit different, both girls have been welcomed by their contemporaries. Their friends’ parents have also been incredibly patient and kind with us, helping us navigate the intricacies of the school calendars and explain strange American customs like carpool!”
Mt. Bethel Christian Academy
Jan and Caroline Geluk, a Dutch family who relocated to Atlanta in July, have four children enrolled in Mt. Bethel Christian Academy in east Cobb: Rosa (age 8), Hans (age 7), Laurens (age 5) and Eva (age 2). Relocating from Dubai for his job at UL, Jan Geluk moved his family to Marietta. “When we first came to Atlanta in February 2015, we visited a number of public schools, however we had the feeling that the step from the international school to a private school would be a better option,” he says. “Therefore, we looked at four different private schools, where we mainly looked at quality and safety of the location, as well as the quality of the curriculum and reviews from parents on the internet.”
The “buddy families” assigned to the Geluks by Mt. Bethel, as well as earning spots for all four children, made the school stand out. The kids are enjoying the library, physical education class, art lessons, music and Fun Friday, while Jan and Caroline’s favorite aspect is the structured approach to math and language education. “We recommend parents to look for a school with a strong curriculum, matching (Christian, in our case) background, good facilities and sports lessons, within budget, trying to keep the school run limited to under 15 minutes,” says Geluk.
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
The Emmanuele family relocated from the Chicago area to Sandy Springs so their children, Catherine and Philip (both age 15), could enroll in the Innovation Diploma program at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. “We approached our school search in an unconventional way,” says Hannah Emmanuele. “Why? We live in a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, with every aspect of our economy and society poised to be rapidly transformed in as yet unimaginable ways. It’s clear our children’s adult lives will be vastly different than our own. The greatest gift we can give them other than our love and support is to help our children become master learners and prepare them to be agile and adaptable for whatever may and will come their way.”
Hannah Emmanuele and her husband, Philip, searched for schools with leaders who understood this change and were intentionally cultivating the essential skills and dispositions of today’s young people. Their priorities included an upper school that placed high value on creating irresistible learning environment and had bold plans for the future with action toward creativity, innovation and developing self-learners. “Mount Vernon Presbyterian School rose to the very top after our oldest son returned from FUSE, an annual design thinking conference the school sponsors. He said, ‘It’s not hype. You can feel the school’s core values and culture when you walk in the building — it’s all around you.’”
“Our kids love collaborating in iDiploma and already have accomplished more than we could have imagined,” Emmanuele adds. “In the first weeks of school, they learned about the innovator’s DNA and design thinking, discovered the power of empathy as a problem-solving tool, published their reflections online to the world, interviewed adults for insights into real-world problems, learned how to become a networked and connected citizen and trained in five powerful digital communication tools to augment their work. The level of trust and respect their coaches/teachers have in the students and their ability as learners is empowering and inspiring.”
The Davis Academy
Amy and Jonathan Deutsch moved to Sandy Springs with their daughters Chloe and Maggie (ages 15 and 10 respectively) when he got a job opportunity he could not pass up. When trying to find a new school for Maggie, who was moving from one of the top elementary schools in Connecticut, the Deutsch family wanted a school focused on the fundamentals of education that was still innovative in their methodology.
“We were looking for a school that was focused on the individual needs of our child, but also how group dynamics and technology were going to play a role in the learning process,” Amy Deutsch says. “We were introduced to Davis through our Rabbi from Connecticut. During one of Jonathan’s work trips to Atlanta, he met with Lisa Mirsky, the admissions director at Davis. He took a tour of the school and was blown away by what he saw and experienced there.”
Maggie is enjoying the fact that her teachers ensure that she and the rest of her classmates fully grasp a concept before moving on, while the Deutsch parents are happy she no longer complains about learning Hebrew, as she did in Connecticut, as well as all the school community building events. “My kids got a tremendous amount out of being able to ‘shadow’ for the day,” Deutsch tells other parents. “Consider what avenues are in place if your child is struggling or exceling, and what checks are in place to identify those trouble areas as well as strengths.”
Atlanta International School
Sabine Grutschnig and her husband were both working for Daimler AG/Mercedes-Benz back home in Stuttgart in southwest Germany before moving to Atlanta so he could manage Mercedes-Benz USA’s Sales Controlling Department. Due to living abroad, their children Simon (age 10), Hannes (age 7) and Charlotte (age 5) have very basic-to-nonexistent English-speaking skills. “At some point in time we will relocate back to Germany and they would have to fit back into the German curriculum,” Grutschnig says, “therefore, it was most important to us they don’t lose their German language skills and also get infused by a multicultural environment.”
Atlanta International School’s German track provided the exact environment they sought with many activities outside school hours and is the recommended school for Daimler expatriates. The Grutschnig children are enjoying learning English as a second language, meeting the other native German speakers, the quality of the sports teams and their dedicated teachers. “My advice would be to start out looking for a school as early as possible,” Grutschnig says. “By the time we knew we would be coming to Atlanta, all the application cycles had passed and it was very challenging to get our kids in.”