When John Kennedy came to Lakeview Academy in 2010 to serve as head of the private school, he was given a mandate to grow the school even while the Great Recession had dropped enrollment.
But Kennedy took an approach that mirrored a larger debate happening at a national scale about how to fix the nation’s economy: invest or cut back.
“What a lot of independent schools do when times get tough is they cut programs,” Kennedy said. “We did the opposite here. And it worked.”
This included doubling the fine arts program, strengthening the Spanish program and adding more robust mathematics curriculum and talented faculty.
The results showed as enrollment and graduates grew, with more than 60 annually heading off to colleges and universities.
“The early growth was in our upper school,” Kennedy said.
The growth trickled down to the middle school, where a new school building for those grade levels was opened for the 2017-18 academic year.
The school has kept individual class sizes small, as well, Kennedy said.
One of the biggest challenges Lakeview consistently faces is raising money from donors. As a private, college preparatory academy, it doesn’t benefit from special purpose local options sales tax revenue or other public funding to support its mission.
But following the recession, Kennedy said the school has cut its debt in half and tripled its endowment thanks to the support of new and longtime donors.
“We were smart,” Kennedy said, adding that the school has remained focused on improving academics over athletics. “We do one thing and one thing well and that’s college prep.”
Whether it’s expanding writing courses, requiring public speaking curriculum or growing the fine arts program, these efforts are directed at readying students for the next level.
“Until they change admissions requirements, that’s our focus,” Kennedy said.
Lakeview closely tracks where its students enroll in higher education. Kennedy said many stay in the state, attending the University of Georgia or the Georgia Institute of Technology.
But others receive scholarship opportunities to universities like DePaul, Syracuse, Brown, Virginia and North Carolina.
Lakeview just had its re-accreditation visit earlier this year, where school officials laid out their vision for the next five years, Kennedy said.
He expects to expand the focus on technology, such as engineering and robotics courses, while also growing virtual learning opportunities.
Kennedy said the school has diligently focused on expanding and improving safety on campus, not just in light of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida.
New personnel, measures and resources were just added in January, for example.
In the next year, Kennedy said Lakeview will begin to look for funding for some minor facilities improvements, such as new lights for the baseball field or renovations to the fine arts wing, which includes a music recording studio.
“Would we like some other things?” Kennedy asked rhetorically. “Yeah, we’d like a road off Limestone (Parkway). But, right now, that’s a dream. We’re really putting our money into programs.”