Atlanta Classical Academy opened five years ago with students in grades K-8. The school added a grade per year until it became a K-12 Academy in 2018. The public charter school’s mission is to develop students in mind and character through a classical, content-rich curriculum that emphasizes the principles of virtuous living, traditional learning, and civic responsibility. Enrollment at Atlanta Classical Academy is open to students who live throughout the Atlanta Public School district.
The school’s Executive Director, Matthew Kirby, previously served as Founding Chairman of Atlanta Classical Academy’s Board of Directors. Kirby is a graduate of The Westminster Schools, the United States Naval Academy, and Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
“What’s been magical about Atlanta Classical Academy is that from the very start, we’ve considered ourselves to be a mission-driven organization,” says Kirby. “Even as we were first organizing, we decided we want to create a classical charter school that was going to be in the business of training minds and strengthening the hearts of children through a classical, content-rich curriculum. People have rallied around that, and we’ve attracted amazing families and talented faculty.”
Atlanta Classical Academy recently received a second five-year charter renewal through June of 2024 from the Atlanta and Georgia Boards of Education. The school also surpassed the state of Georgia (75.9) and Atlanta Public Schools (74.1) on its overall CCRPI score. In 2019, ACA received an 82.3. That’s eight points higher than APS and six points higher than the overall Georgia score.
Kirby says the school’s teachers are one of the reasons the school has been successful. He says Atlanta Classical Academy has been able to hire and recruit teachers from across the country, many of whom are overqualified, because they are passionate about the mission of creating intelligent and virtuous citizens.
“It starts with teachers who are kindhearted, love children, and want to be around students. They are also subject matter experts. They are intellectuals who are actively engaged in some form the liberal arts. It could be that they are avid readers, history buffs, or passionate about art, music, a language or moral philosophy,” says Kirby.
According to Kirby, hiring educators who are intellectually curious and enthusiastic about the subject matter they are teaching makes a huge impact and is a key ingredient to keeping students engaged.
Kirby says students also benefit from the high-quality curriculum the school offers. The school is dedicated to providing students with a classical education. Educators at the school want students to engage directly with the greatest thinkers of the past in a way that is not inhibited by the opinions of others or textbooks.
“A typical day entails us coaching students in what we call ‘acquiring the mind of thinkers,’ so that when they engage in a literature class or a primary source in a history class, they’re not thinking about merely collecting information, but they are placing themselves within this enormous conversation about what it means to be a person and how to live well in the world, which has been going on for a really long time,” says Josh Andrew, Dean of Academics at Atlanta Classical Academy.
Andrew says the school also encourages students to find patterns and ask questions to make sense of the world around them through subjects like math and science. In history, Andrew says students learn that many of the problems we are experiencing today are the same as those of the past, and people failed in many of the same ways.
“Students learn humility and begin to develop empathy for what it means to be a person,” says Andrew. “We’re giving our students a historical perspective that helps situate them in the world around them.”
Andrew leads a senior thesis project, which is one of the unique things that Kirby says has a major impact on Atlanta Classical Academy students. As part of the project, seniors write a 10 to 20-page paper that seeks to answer a weighty question about life. Students choose their question, work with a faculty member to develop the thesis statement, and present on the thesis project in front of a panel of faculty members near the end of the school year. The thesis project began last year with the school’s first class of seniors.
In general, Kirby says educators at Atlanta Classical Academy are working to help students answer one major question throughout their time at the school.
“What does it mean to live well?” says Kirby. “That’s what we’re trying to help these young people answer, so they are off on the course to live a good life.