When the family that owns Highlander School announced in October they’d be closing in June after 57 years, parents there spent a while grieving the loss of the sweet little school and the community they’d created around it.
Then they got busy.
After first considering raising millions to purchase the creekside campus, organizers have instead created a new school nearby. Highlands Christian School will open in August of 2023 at Redeemer Bible Church, 721 Easton. An informational open house will be held there Jan. 22.
“Our small class sizes, limited to 14 students, allow our teachers to focus on each child,” says Rebekah Bailey, who’ll transition from early childhood curriculum coordinator at Highlander to principal at Highlands Christian. “Our teachers teach eye-to-eye from the front of the classroom, not from behind a screen. We know what works.”
Highlander’s beloved veteran teachers will anchor Highlands Christian’s faculty, including Mary Jane Gilliam, Janet Reibenstein, Debby Duncan, Drue Johnstone Puckett and others. Staff will average 24 years of teaching experience for students in pre-K through sixth grade.
“I’m most excited about the faculty,” Bailey says. “I trust them, I’ve taught with them, they’ve all taught my children. They know their subjects, and they can confidently take that knowledge into the new setting.”
Curriculum developed by Mae Carden and brought to Highlander by founder Betty Woodring will be the foundation of the new school. Traditions, including weekly poem recitations, Christmas and year-end musical performances, study of French language and culture, and use of the Accelerated Reader program will continue.
Parents who’ve spent the last 3 months putting the plan together believe the pieces are falling perfectly into place – but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been hiccups along the way.
“We have a more committed, cohesive group of parents now, because we all went and toured every school in town,” says Meghan Riney, who attended Highlander as a child and now has 3 sons enrolled. “We felt like a bunch of orphans. Every time we’d finish a tour – and there are some amazing schools out there – we’d say, ‘This is fantastic, but it’s not our school. It doesn’t feel like home. Being with our teachers is where we belong.’”
Riney says the touring process reinforced parents’ belief in the Carden curriculum, which emphasizes the building blocks of language arts and mathematics. Continuing with Carden is “a dream come true,” she says.
“At our school, there’s a feeling of family and a feeling of being known,” Riney says. “The small class sizes and curriculum allow kids time to breathe. You’re not teaching to a standardized test. You are pausing to delve into the literature you are reading or the lesson you are studying. The teachers know your learning style, and there’s room in your day for classroom discussion and to have some laughs. It feels like a safe space, like the world slows down a bit. You’re able to enjoy learning without pressure or speed.”
Riney says she and other parents are brimming with gratitude for those who’ve paved the way to make this transition possible.
“We’re very grateful for Jill [Reed, Woodring’s daughter], for keeping Highlander going after her mom died. She’s worked like crazy for all of our families, and she’s the reason we can do this. We’re also thankful for our teachers, who said they have a lot more to give and want to continue to teach this curriculum.”
Bailey admits she and her teachers have a daunting task ahead moving supplies and equipment 1.4 miles south to their new digs when summer begins.
“Our science teacher has all kinds of specimens and skeletons. It will be a challenge, but the kids can’t wait to be in her class. It’s just so exciting.”
Highlands Christian School’s open house begins at 2 p.m. Jan. 22. You may register to attend here.