By contributing writer Kelly Bolhofner
August 2018 – 2 min. read
Atlanta has always been known for its innovative growth (most recently in the fintech industry), quality universities and corporate infrastructure. While the city is home to several post-secondary schools, it has not always had strong K-12 programs to prepare its students to attend those universities. With a goal of providing the city with a solid foundation of future leaders, early educators and innovators started independent schools they hoped would inspire creativity and a strong desire for learning. Today, Atlanta boasts 135 of the 869 private schools in Georgia (15.5 percent), with 30,685 of the total 155,925 students statewide attending private schools (19.6 percent).
The cost of a private education in Atlanta averages $12,253 for elementary and $16,555 for high school, compared to the national average of $10,413. While this is comparable to the cost of a post-secondary education, recently state lawmakers have been looking at legislation that will shift money from public education over to private education, allowing more students to access the benefits of an independent school experience.
House Bill 664 will change the way parents use their 529 savings plans, letting them apply it to secondary education as well as post-secondary schooling. House Bill 217 is a tax credit voucher program that will raise the annual limit on tax credits for student scholarship organizations. Another bill that was voted on and lost but could come up again in revised form is House Bill 482, which is essentially an expanded voucher program.
Focus: Atlanta sat down with Keith Evans, president of the Westminster Schools, earlier this year to talk about the kind of education students can expect to receive from Westminster. “We attract students who want to blend intellectual, athletic and artistic talent with a desire to serve a purpose larger than themselves and make an impact on the world,” Evans told Focus:. “That has been our mission and our calling card from the beginning. If you look around Atlanta, there’s a lot of Westminster DNA in both the historical growth of the city as well as the interesting things that are happening today.” He added that “Westminster has fully launched a number of innovative, educational experiences for our students. Prominent among these is a three-week program called Jan Term; all of our Upper School students participate. ” The school also offers a summer program called Running Through History, which allows students to run cross-country through Europe while learning the history of World War II.
Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy, shared with Focus: the things that set Woodward apart from other schools. “We are the oldest and the largest independent school in the continental U.S.,” he said. He pointed out that the school values diversity: “We have a deep respect for difference. That’s reflected in every difference imaginable, not just race, ethnicity or religion.” While offering the same co-curricular opportunities as other private schools, Woodward Academy faces challenges with the current traffic and infrastructure. Efforts of the new Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance in creating a seamlessly connected “airport city” will hopefully help to mitigate those issues.
Private education offers students a chance to learn in more creative ways and teachers a chance to teach using their own styles. Parents are more engaged and involved in the students’ education, and graduation rates are significantly higher. Both Westminster and Woodward have an acceptance rate of about 25 percent, keeping the average class size to about 16 students with a 7:1 student-to-teacher ratio. This provides an opportunity for more one-on-one teaching.
As Evans told Focus:, “The City of Atlanta itself and the metro area have about as wide a range of educational options as you can imagine. What distinguishes Atlanta in terms of educational choices is that the schools here tend to be focused on their unique mission and philosophy and serving a particular kind of student. Schools in Atlanta have done a good job of defining their purpose: what place they want to occupy in the ecosystem and who they’re here to serve.”
Atlanta has come a long way from its early days and today boasts not only some of the finest private schools but also 98 public learning sites, two single-sex institutions and 17 charter schools that are improving under the current leadership. With so many top-quality choices, Atlanta is leading the charge in educating the next generation of innovators and leaders.