From preschool to upper school, three schools share their experience with adding a grade level(s) to their school.

  • The Randolph School in Huntsville, AL expanded its K-12 program by introducing two PK4 classrooms in the fall of 2022. “Prekindergarten at Randolph is a place where energetic, bright, and eager learners will be welcomed and supported. As part of the Lower School, students will build a strong foundation in social, pre-academic, and life skills that will help them succeed in Kindergarten and beyond.” 
  • Salisbury Academy, north of Charlotte, in Salisbury, NC added both 3K and grades 9-11 for the 2023-2024 school year. “Research and best practices of core knowledge, future-ready skills, and habits for success inform our Upper School design. The result is a dynamic community where each learner is authentically engaged in preparation for their best possible future.”
  • The Stonehaven School, a classical school, north of Atlanta, in Marietta, GA began adding an upper school grade each year with 9th grade in 2020 and ending with 12th grade in 2023. “Stonehaven’s Upper School program is built upon a bold idea: a character-transforming education founded upon intellectual pursuits that stir the soul.”

Research and Planning
In all three schools, community feedback was an integral part to the decision making process. Survey data, small group conversations, and assessment of the financial implications of adding a grade contributed to the strategic planning process. For Randolph, exceptional population growth in the Huntsville area underscored a need for more early childhood programming. Internal admissions inquiries and waiting lists for other community programs were driving factors for the addition of a preschool division to the school.

Personnel and Space
Randolph, addressed staffing needs for two preschool classrooms by leveraging the existing parent community for two hires supplemented by recruiting two additional staff members from local programs. However, the challenge of limited space prompted the school to invest in modular classrooms, necessitating an expansion of campus security fencing to accommodate these new structures.

Salisbury secured a lease on a newly renovated space for their upper school division, streamlining the move-in process. The new facility accomodates a recently appointed upper school head, one full-time and four part-time teachers. The director of enrollment management, with a background in college counseling, also supports the upper school. Salisbury’s unique model partners with a local private college to offer dual enrollment classes while also engaging community experts to enrich art and wellness immersion courses.

Stonehaven purchased land and built a small building coinciding with the launch of their 9th grade program in 2020. Through a combination of internal restructuring and new hires, the school incrementally added one and a half to two full-time employees each year.

Unexpected Roadblocks
All three schools encountered unanticipated delays and obstacles with city permits, inspections, building codes, and licensing. Randolph discovered that consistent communication with all agencies was crucial to keeping everything moving forward.

The process and logistics of construction and its impact on existing school operations was an unforeseen challenge for Stonehaven. The school was originally conservative with both finances and their new building’s size. This, coupled with the success of their additional grade levels, quickly resulted in an evolving need for additional space.

Salisbury, with its distinctive upper school model, encountered difficulties in effectively conveying its vision to the broader community. Now that there are students in the classrooms who can share their daily authentic learning experiences, prospective families have a  better understanding of the attributes and opportunities with this non-traditional approach.

Measuring Success
Both Randolph and Salisbury successfully achieved their first year enrollment goals for their respective preschool programs. The demonstrated need and community response has been overwhelming for both schools. Randolph subsequently expanded its PK4 grade level by adding another section.

Currently, Randolph is actively pursuing a STAR rating from the Alabama Department of Human Resources and Department of Early Childhood Education. Similar to SAIS accreditation, this program recognizes a school’s strengths and facilitates the development of an improvement plan.

Salisbury remains committed to refining the narrative surrounding its upper school model, leveraging its partnership with Catawba College to enhance the program’s credibility. Salisbury has developed a comprehensive five year plan to track enrollment, finances, and growth for both preschool and upper school programs.

As they have added a grade each year, Stonehaven has witnessed significant success and view the addition of the upper school division as a pivotal moment in the school’s journey.

Speaking from Experience
The leadership at Randolph advises schools to expect delays and be prepared to adapt and overcome the challenges that will inevitably pop up. Salisbury recommends visiting other schools with similar programs and carefully consider the potential strain on existing staff, especially in the admissions and marketing departments. For Stonehaven, meticulous two-year planning proved instrumental to their success, with active student involvement crucial in fostering a sense of ownership and engagement in the school’s ambitious endeavors. As Head of School Brett Edwards reflects, “We needed to make the students feel like they were a part of this big, amazing project.”

Special thanks to these schools for sharing their stories with us.
Adam Dubè is the head of school for Randolph School in Huntsville, AL. Randolph School provides a rigorous and well-rounded PK-12 college preparatory education within a nurturing community. Through a commitment to excellence in academics, the arts, and athletics, the School’s program and its faculty demand diligence and discipline while encouraging creativity and discovery. Above all, the School emphasizes honor, integrity, and character so that all in partnership with Randolph are elevated and inspired to enrich their families, communities, the nation, and the world.

Salisbury Academy in Salisbury, NC is led by Beverly Fowler. Salisbury Academy inspires a love of learning and prepares passionate leaders through discovery, stewardship, community, and faith. Salisbury Academy strives to prepare students to become well-rounded contributors in their 21st century communities.

Brett Edwards leads The Stonehaven School in Marietta, GA. The Stonehaven School exists to glorify God by cultivating truth, goodness, and beauty in students through a distinctly Christ-centered classical education. Stonehaven strives to be the premier, classical Christian school in the greater Atlanta area with a reputation for Christian virtue and academic excellence.