Principally Speaking Blog

High Expectations – Private Kindergarten

I often marvel at our kindergarteners. They are naturally interested in the world around them and full of curious wonder. When I walk into the classroom, children with their wide eyes, smiles, and hugs, eager to show their writing, greet me at the door. What better place to capitalize on the rigor and enthusiasm of literacy learning than in a private kindergarten setting.

When I spend time with our kindergarteners during reading instruction, there is much focus on sight words, vocabulary, reading strategies, initial and final sounds, spelling, blending, and comprehension of text. All of these skills demonstrate a commitment to building a solid foundation of literacy while teaching children to be excellent.

Equally important and unique to these lessons is our focus on handwriting, organizing our belongings, demonstrating pride in our work, taking risks, respecting our friends, and loving the learning of reading.

At Wood Acres, we value purposeful and developmentally appropriate practices in learning to read while trusting in high expectations for all of our students. Even in kindergarten, we foster a climate of high expectations. This is one of the seven correlates of effective schools noted by researcher Larry Lezotte. These correlates drive all learning and success for our kindergarteners and for all of our students ages 2-14. For a five-year-old, talking out the process of forming letters and perhaps carefully erasing if needed to make sure it looks just right, is just one of many ways s/he demonstrates an understanding of high expectations.

Kindergarten – The First Educational Milestone

A private kindergarten experience at Wood Acres will nurture and challenge your child like no other. Kindergarten is the first big educational milestone of childhood. It holds all of the wonder of the age and the excitement for all of the formal learning that will occur over the next few years. This is the start of something big.

We know our young kindergarteners will achieve at the end of the school year because we carefully set high, yet attainable goals within the context of a challenging curriculum for each age and stage. When you are fortunate to have a middle school on a campus filled with preschool and grammar school students, this educational roadmap allows our vision to be more focused and effective.

At Wood Acres, we often say we, “begin with the end in mind” from leading researcher Steven Covey of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” If we look at what our oldest student knows, sees, says, and does, it becomes easier to translate these attributes to our younger students.  If we value standards of excellence such as communication, effort, preparedness, respect, organization, among others, then we are able to break these down into their smallest parts and expect all of our students to achieve these at some level.

Our students participate in a day filled with strong academics but also for moments engaging in the arts, recess, physical education, STEM activities, Spanish, and areas of interest the children bring into the classroom. Seasoned faculty nurture a love of learning and strong sense self that children need in today’s challenging world. Click here to learn more about a Wood Acres Kindergarten curriculum.

Moments of magic, mastery, and the beginnings of a solid educational foundation is what you will find in a private Kindergarten classroom at Wood Acres.

Schedule a campus tour to discover more about the Kindergarten programs.

The next steps…high school

As quickly as the school year begins for our Wood Acres 8th graders, we turn our attention to assisting them in the next steps in their educational career: high school.

This may seem daunting when you consider that many students in the Wood Acres private middle school have been a part of the Wood Acres family for their most formative years, but they are actually more prepared than they realize. If the amount of growth from 12-14 years old is equally significant to that from birth-2, when students are challenged with a rigorous curriculum within a supportive and familiar environment, they emerge as solid, confident leaders who are ready to take on this next phase.

Students already have high school thoughts in mind after coaching we offer to parents and families when they are welcomed into the Upper School. The varied options in this area allow families to be thoughtful about finding a school and a program that is the best choice for their student. Long gone are the days when you just register at the high school down the street. Choice is a wonderful option in today’s ever-changing world and we pride ourselves on helping our students make these choices.

Each fall, we invite our colleagues in area public, private, and magnet schools to our 10 acre campus to chat with our students and to give them an overview of what their school has to offer as well as to share tips on transitioning to any high school. In this area especially, high school is difficult and competitive no matter where our student’s attend. These relationships ensure that we are helping our students be successful no matter their choice.

When students ask questions, shake hands with these administrators and follow up with them via email, they are applying all of the skills they have learned as a student of Wood Acres. They are demonstrating to their teachers, peers, and families that they not only have the solid academic foundation that the Wood Acres private middle school is known for, but the soft skill set necessary to navigate today’s complex world.

Click here for more information about a Wood Acres middle school education and the curriculum.

The “Shakedown” month

At the Wood Acres School, we know that long stretches of time create maximum opportunities for student learning and we build our school calendar to facilitate this belief.  I recently read an article from Susan Kruger, the creator of SOAR, a study skills program, who actually refers to October as the most difficult month of the school year because it is a long stretch of time without a school break. One of her teachers even referred to it as “shakedown” month.

Her feeling was that the days are long and our students are growing and testing their boundaries with us and with their peers. We are stretching our students and they are facing new and higher expectations and learning new material. They are challenging themselves daily.

So…how do we make the most of this “shakedown”? How do we help our students be successful during this time? Here are some tips from Susan Kruger that resonated with my faculty and me.

We recognize that learning can be challenging, is hard work and that is ok. We are not afraid to instill a strong work ethic in our students.

We tell our students who are feeling the stress and pressure of this time that it will not last forever. The lovely holiday season is just around the corner.

We help our students get ready for a day of learning. We help them relax, settle into the day, feel comfortable, and reset any negative emotional thoughts they might be bringing into the classroom.

We move around on our spacious campus to get some exercise before starting a new lesson.

We always emphasize the positive.  We remind students not to give up, but to keep trying and to stay the course. This is of course, the most important indicator of long-term success.

50 Years of Wood Acres

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The Wood Acres School, it brings me such pride and joy to serve as the Principal of this amazing place.  I am honored to be a part of the front row seat to the learning of these amazing students and to get a 360 degree perspective on what makes Wood Acres the place where I am able to come each day to make a difference for our children, families, and faculty.

I am humbled by that, each day and especially during this milestone year. All of us have been sharing anecdotes about our connections to Wood Acres, the beginnings of Wood Acres, and our feelings about why we love this school. My love for Wood Acres began over ten years ago and together, we all love…

Working on our beautiful outdoor campus that nurtures the learning process with an appreciation and respect for childhood. 

Caring, educated faculty who make decisions with administration and each other on what is good for students. 

Honoring education and a rigorous curriculum and the process of learning while keeping expectations high.

Recognizing children have the potential to be leaders and providing opportunities like peer mentoring, book buddies, and service to our school and community.   

Encouraging students to make mistakes as this is a supportive place and celebrating their successes.

It is essential to know where you have been to know where you are headed.  We know where we have been, and like beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss tells us…..we are certainly going places.

As we look forward to the next fifty years and our bright future, it is clear in this busy, and sometimes unsettling time, more than ever the Wood Acres School is relevant and needed. We are excited that you are part of this story. Our future is all of you and your children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Together we will continue this legacy and our ideals. We will share the excitement that is a Wood Acres education.  We will deepen connections among ourselves and our community.  We will thoughtfully make decisions for the good of our students in these changing times based on what they need to be successful in their future.

When visitors come onto our campus.  They smile and look with wide eyes.  They instantly see how special it is. They feel part of that excitement that we see everyday.

When alumni proudly visit us, they always share much they miss the beautiful surroundings of Wood Acres and how much they treasure the uniqueness of this experience.

In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Wood Acres, you have made all of us feel special.

Today we celebrate fifty years of that legacy and look forward to the next fifty years of students, families, and faculty that will undoubtedly feel special too.

Early Literacy

At The Wood Acres School, we instill a love of learning and literacy in our youngest preschool students. Our curriculum is developmentally appropriate, yet challenging for children who are constantly engaging with the wonderful world around them.

Our two year olds are exposed to language through play and stories that are a part of building a solid foundation as they begin their academic journey. In the three year old program, our classrooms are filled with songs and rhymes and more stories as they meet reading “investigators” who become friends as a part of our reading curriculum. Our preschool learners are beginning to make more of a leap to understanding the format of books, learning left to right progression, sequencing, recognizing words on a page and in their world, and that those words carry a message.

We recognize our families play a key role in nurturing their children to be readers and that role is paramount to their children’s success. Taking time to snuggle with children to read or re read a favorite story demonstrates reading is comforting and special. Making time for your own reading encourages children to be just like mom and dad and pick up a book on their own. We invite you to celebrate reading with your families and to fall into a perfect book.

Academic Journeys in East Cobb at the Wood Acres School

Springtime at Wood Acres brings the exciting news of where our eighth graders will attend high school for the 2019-2020 school year. The teachers and I always feel like proud parents as we learn about where our beloved students will take their next steps in their educational journey especially since so many of them have been learning with us throughout their childhood.

We begin sharing information with students and their families in sixth grade as an overview of sorts with the entire class. Families who are interested in continuing private education will need to make sure children have an outstanding start to their middle school experience as these records will become part of their transcript. When students reach the middle of seventh grade, the counselor and I meet individually with each family to help guide them through what has become a rather arduous process. Families living in Cobb and Fulton county look to apply to different magnet and or academy options within their school system. These require a rigorous application process as well and similar to one for a private school. These magnets and academies will look at grades and test scores from students’ seventh grade and first half of eighth grade years.

At the beginning of eighth grade, families and students meet to fine tune each student’s process. We invite counselors and admissions officers of all of these schools so that students can get a feel for where they would like to continue their learning.

Looking across our nine graduating classes in the history of Wood Acres, students have enrolled at many private schools including The Walker School, Woodward Academy, The Galloway School, Blessed Trinity, Mt. Paran Christian Academy, and Holy Innocents Episcopal School, among others.

We also happily have had students accepted and attending the Cobb’s Wheeler Math and Science Magnet, The IB (International Baccalaureate) Program at Campbell high School, the North Cobb School of International Studies as well as Fulton counties Riverwood IB program. Academy programs within Cobb county high schools are also popular especially if housed in a student’s home high school. Walton’s STEM academy, Pope’s Globalization Academy are also interesting to our students. Walton’s ISA (International Spanish Academy) program draws WA students with a love of Spanish language and a rigor and interest in the humanities.

Students choosing to remain in their home school take rigorous classes similar to what they have encountered at Wood Acres. Our relationships with the various guidance departments and admissions offices help our students with the transition to high school.

It gives all of us a great sense of pride to watch our students takes these next steps. After nine years of graduating eighth graders, we are excited to see them fly and make their mark in their next academic home. They are always excited for their graduation, and always ready to come back to visit. In fact, when they return, they not only share news on high school pursuits, but many on college acceptances too. In fact, we are proud to have students at UGA, Georgia Tech, NYU, Loyola Marymount, Tulane, Notre Dame, West Point, Auburn, and University of South Carolina, among others.

Wood Acres is proud of our students and our joint commitment to their successful journeys.

One of the many unique qualities about Wood Acres is our approach of looking what our eldest students should know, see, say, and do and then backward map it to our youngest students. It is a strong belief of our Head of School, Judy Thigpen, and one that has resonated with me throughout my tenure at WA.

Before I fully transitioned into a leadership role, I knew there was something I needed to accomplish first. I needed to teach in our Upper School. All of my prior teaching experience was with children in grades K-5, and my daughter at the time was in our Early School. I felt confident about what Early and Grammar School students should know, say, and do, but that understanding wasn’t there for me when thinking about an older student. How could I possibly lead without an understanding of our oldest students and program?

Like all other ages and stages of a child’s development, it was easy for me to fall in love with our tweens and teens! They were independent, respectful, kind, intelligent, motivated, and capable students. All of their years at Wood Acres among passionate and caring teachers, involved parents, and a supportive yet rigorous school environment prepared them for this pivotal moment.  They fully applied their learning and enjoyed it, developed a strong sense of self, and added to our community in so many meaningful ways. It was a joy to be in their company and I can say even in my current role, it still is. They are comfortable to share a thought, an opinion, an idea, and I couldn’t be more honored to be that person. They keep me grounded and focused on what is important.

With this clarity, I look at our younger students in new and different ways. I see the twinkle in their eyes and wonder in their play and can picture their more grownup self. I see interests and strengths and how that will help grow a solid foundation both academically and emotionally. I work with teachers and parents about how to encourage developmentally appropriate high expectations no matter the age of a student. I am better equipped to instill confidence to our families, teachers, and our students that through this thoughtful journey with a stay the course approach, our students will indeed soar when it comes time to graduate.

The Heartbeat of Wood Acres

I do not wear a white coat, nor do I have an entourage of eager interns following me, but I do “make the rounds” to check on the pulse, the heartbeat of the Woods, every day. It is my favorite part of the day because it is all about the children, teachers, and staff on this special campus.  It frees me from the paperwork on my desk, the emails to be read, the books to be reviewed, and the other sedentary duties that are unfortunately too common to administrators who are in this role.

My daily rounds are full of those sightings mentioned in Mrs. Thigpen’s current HEADlines. I spend time in dozens of classrooms filled with eager students engaged in reading, math, science, or art. I talk with students as they walk the campus to recess, PE, or Spanish. The Early Schoolers will offer me a shovel to dig for dinosaur bones or ask me to push them on the swings while our oldest students always want to schedule time to speak with me about an idea for a service project or an upcoming school trip or assignment.

These sightings ignite my senses to the rhythm to the day, the “feel” of our campus, and the learning that is occurring. I also touch base with our talented teachers, our watchful security team and dedicated office colleagues.  I take notes to follow up with everyone with thanks, compliments, and suggestions once “rounds” are completed.

The heartbeat of Wood Acres is strong and healthy. My diagnosis is that teaching, learning, and caring (TLC @ the Woods) is alive, well, palpable, and hearty. How fortunate we are to be in such a healthy thriving environment as this.

Greetings all and welcome to The Wood Acres School

At the conclusion of each academic year, we graduate our stellar eighth graders in a special ceremony that honors hard work and a commitment to excellence. This is the speech I shared with our proud students this May.

Good morning graduates, parents, faculty, students, and special guests. It is my pleasure and honor to welcome you to the 8th Graduation of the Wood Acres School.

This spring, you may have heard that we traveled to Spain. Lucky me! I had the pleasure and privilege to accompany our graduates. And to be honest, I don’t know what took me so long to go!

But I do know I will be going again.

Seeing as I was the only non-Spanish speaker on the trip, I wanted to model what that looked like for our students. I wanted to show them to be brave in a new place and how exciting it is to immerse yourself in the language and culture when you travel.

Well, as soon as we landed in Madrid, I couldn’t wait to soak it all in. And, of course, it was easy with such wonderful fluent people to travel with in the most beautiful of countries…and when you enjoy traveling as I do!

During our time in Spain, I noticed though that some words were easy to latch onto. My ears kept perking up when I heard these words and before long I found myself asking about these words and eventually using these words.

Using these words made me feel part of the club and I loved it. I couldn’t get enough. I felt Spanish!

What is also interesting about these words, is that they all represent advice and teachings I would like you to take with you, graduates as you move onto high school and beyond.

And so I’d like to present some of these to you. Are you all ready to travel with me to Spain? Can you guess which of my favorite words are on the list?

This is by far my favorite. I know the students know it. Tranquillo.

Just say this word and you know the meaning. And I also love Sra. Thigpen’s accompanying hand gesture with this one. Tranquillo. Sometimes calma is used as a substitute. Tranquillo. Calma. Don’t you feel better after saying these?

Everything in Spain is tranquillo. How wonderful would it be if we applied this feeling and way of life to our hectic and crazy lives. It just means slow down. Tranquility. Be calm. Hakuna Matata. No worries.

You are late. tranquillo. Not feeling well, tranquillo. Having a tough day, tranquillo. And to our graduates, feeling anxious? Tranquillo.

All will be good, I promise. You have the tools you need and you are ready for this next step.


This one seems easily translated, right? It should mean clear. But what is great about this word is that it means more than that. During many conversations, I would hear someone reply, claro. And this prompted me to ask for clarification.

Claro means, I understand you. I understand your story. I understand your situation. I understand what you are going through.

Oh how I wish all of us could have someone say that in return to us. We all need to be understood. We also need to always seek to understand. Claro.


This is a break or a rest.

The image of this word just makes me happy. Each morning the students would take would take a descanso.

It is a ritual. It is a time to stop and savor a snack with friends. No to go cups. No paper products. No standing and gobbling. Just conversation and something to nibble on and sit on proper dishes. No rushing. Just enjoying.

We all need a moment sometimes to pause and rejuvenate.


These are seat belts! Every time we would get on a bus, the adults would cry out “cinturones” which would be immediately followed by followed by 11 clicks. Wearing seatbelts in Spain is mandatory.

Graduates, buckle up for safety. Buckle up for an adventure of a lifetime. Buckle up for all of the great moments headed your way. It’s going to be quite a ride.

El Mismo.

Mismo. The same.

As in I’ll have what she’s having. This was a great one to know when ordering in a restaurant.

But this word is so much greater than that. How about remembering that we are all more same than different. El mismo. There is a great song by Jennifer Lopez called El Mismo Sol. And yes, I learned about it from my bilingual daughter. We are all under the same sun. What a great thought.


This is a funny one. I first learned of this word in a text from Sr. Thigpen to me and Sen. Boyle. We were going over details of the trip the next before our flight and Sra. ended the text with vale.

I quickly turned to my daughter for help. What is vale?

It means ok. Ready to go…Vale! See you tomorrow….Vale! Ready for summer…..Vale!

I love this one.


This is one we all know! Say it with me. Gracias. Gracias means thank you. Graduates, remember to always give thanks and say thanks.

We heartily say thank you to our families and to our students for all of the memories and lessons you have given us.

And finally…..vamos!

As in Let’s go! Come on!

In the words of Dr Seuss from one of my favorite books “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. This copy was given to me from my high school English teacher upon my graduation.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!


Graduates, I hope you will keep these words in your heart and place them in the vocabulary of your daily life. Thank you for teaching me that this is possible. Congratulations to all of you.