By Thomas Keever

They say the third time is a charm, and they’re right. A couple weeks ago was my third, first day of school as executive director at Lake Lure Classical Academy. What a swirl of bright, new faces to be found! Apparently word has gotten out about our little gem of a school. This year, our enrollment has increased by about 30 percent, bringing our Raptor student body total to more than 530. 

For the first time in our nearly decade-long history, we’ve had to generate waiting lists. And not just for one grade, but for multiple grades. We’re naturally reluctant to turn away any potential students, but we believe it’s imperative we limit our class sizes and preserve our family-friendly, close-knit environment. While we’re elated to have reached this optimum size, LLCA will always remain a small school with a big heart.

As you can see from this drone photograph, the Gymnatorium construction is on track. We are slightly ahead of schedule and are optimistic that sometime in March we will host our ribbon cutting ceremony.

Next academic year LLCA will most likely implement a school-wide lottery system. For those not familiar with the process, the charter school lottery system is a random selection where all applicants are ensured an equal chance of being admitted to any open slots.

I have to tell you, it was one hectic summer. We realized our school was on the verge of significant growth, and we wanted to be fully prepared. So the LLCA leadership team and I spent three intense months reviewing our curriculum. From this review we created 10 new positions and recruited top-tier candidates for these and other open slots. The amount of talent we attracted to our humble school — way out here in the mountains — was simply mind-boggling and completely wonderful! We were inundated by more than a hundred highly qualified applicants for multiple positions. It was a problem we were delighted to have, and one which enabled us to bring many amazing, caring professionals to our team at Lake Lure.

To ensure excellence in education as its student body blossoms, Lake Lure Classical Academy recently created 10 new positions and recruited 16 new team members. The new recruits are pictured above are (left to right) Emilee Nidiffer, high school math & science teacher; Karen Taylor, high school English teacher; Kimberly Cole, English & world history teacher; Jennifer Kruesman, exceptional children teacher; Clint Calhoun, biology & earth science; Jay Hustead, sixth grade math & science teacher; Hayley Duncan, middle school social studies; Pam Searcy, elementary assistant; Thomas Keever, executive director; Crystal Nelon, RN, school nurse; Mike Dawkins, elementary assistant; Jodi Bell, sixth grade English & social
studies teacher; Kristen Collette, elementary school guidance counselor; Morgan Poff, middle & high school guidance
counselor; and Madison Taylor, high school Spanish teacher.

Our new positions this year include new high school and sixth grade math and science teachers; a sixth grade English and social studies teacher; an exceptional children teacher for K-12; a registered nurse; a second guidance counselor (one will focus on K-6, and the second 7-12); a communications director; a media assistant to run the library; a second elementary assistant; and a Raptor Care After School Program assistant. It feels good to have planned ahead.

Although we recruited some candidates from distant places, we didn’t have to search far for our new school nurse, Crystal Redmon, RN. Ms. Redmon has had her two oldest children enrolled at LLCA for the past eight years, and will have four enrolled this year. Ms. Redmon and her husband, Howard, are in the process of adopting two sons. With 22 years of nursing experience, including 15 years at Mission Hospital, Ms. Redm0n is now on-hand every school day to address any health or safety concerns. Most schools these days are not fortunate enough to have a nurse solely dedicated to their school. Many in the community may know the Redmons. They own and operate Cedar Creek Stables here in Lake Lure. We’re all happy to have her on hand keeping our children healthy and happy.

We’re also pleased to have two new guidance counselors on board this year. Helping navigate our more senior students, Morgan Poff earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and interpersonal and public communication and a master’s degree in school counseling from Milligan College. Certified in youth mental health first aid and trained in trauma informed care, Ms. Poff has counseled at the middle and high school levels in Tennessee. She has also guided youth struggling through the juvenile justice system and provided support in foster care case management cases. She has coached Girls on the Run at the elementary and middle school levels, and, hopefully, will bring this wonderful program here to Lake Lure Classical Academy. We welcome Ms. Poff to our team. She brings a wealth of wisdom and compassion to our students.

Our new advocate for our younger students, Kristin Collette, earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and master’s from East Tennessee State University. She believes strongly that early intervention can increase resiliency, coping skills, aspirations, and hope for the future. Ms. Collette, a national board certified counselor, says we can learn so much from children if we just take time to listen. Empowering a child by respecting their voice can set a successful tone for the rest of their life’s journey, Ms. Collette says. “My students knowing they can count on me each and every day to be here and care about them is absolute,” Ms. Collette says. “My job is not to fix their problems, but to equip them with the skills they need to become lifelong learners, problem solvers, and caring people. The culture of LLCA reminds me of home — a mountain community who, first and foremost, loves our kids. This is an incredible opportunity, and I hope to grow both personally and professionally here for years to come.”

These are just three of our new team members. I wish I had more space to showcase the other amazing additions to our staff at Lake Lure Classical Academy and those who have dedicated their talents to raise us to this point.

Thomas Keever is Executive director of Lake Lure Classical Academy, CFA.