By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 16, 2023
KENNESAW—A new high school featuring a classical education on the campus of St. Catherine of Siena Church achieved a milestone with the recent hiring of a headmaster, along with naming its faculty.
The Chesterton Academy of Atlanta is on schedule to open its doors for the inaugural year in the fall, with close to 20 students enrolled for the first year. It is to be part of the national Chesterton Schools Network.
Taylor Bettencourt, 31, has been named as its first headmaster. Bettencourt has taught for six years at the Atlanta Classical Academy, a public charter school. He will take up the duties starting in June.
To be part of a new program, building it from the ground up with its academics and shaping its culture is exciting, said Bettencourt.
The California native served as a college missionary for a year before studying philosophy at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
A classical education model for a school focuses its students to read the “Great Books from the Western Tradition” and is rooted in the liberal arts, he said.
A high school history teacher, Bettencourt said leading classroom discussions in a classical school gives him the freedom to have a dialogue about issues with students and is about more than teaching for a test. Students have to engage by responding to open-ended questions to find answers, instead of reciting facts or dates, he said.
“We want them to have an intellectual formation, a moral formation,” he said.
The opportunity to take his passion for education and form a new school, with a Christ-centered culture, was the draw, he said. “It was something I could not pass up. I treat this as a ministry.”
Father Neil Dhabliwala, the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church, is leading the effort to open the school. He also serves as the chairman of the school board of directors.
The goal of the future school is to help young people “not just flourish in a career, but flourish in society,” he said.
The academy will open as a “classical high school grounded in the Catholic faith,” said Father Dhabliwala. He added that after a few years it plans to apply to be recognized as an independent Catholic school.
This effort for a new school started a few years ago when parents with children graduating from the parish school expressed concerned about the lack of a Catholic high school in western Cobb County to continue their education, he said.
The Kennesaw parish has about 3,000 registered families, with 300 students enrolled at its grade school and close to 130 in its preschool program.
It’s about a 17-mile drive from Kennesaw to the Blessed Trinity High School campus in Roswell, the closest Catholic high school. During rush hour, the route can take up to an hour to cover the distance.
After an interruption by the COVID pandemic, the school is accepting students for the fall. In early March, some 17 acceptance letters were sent to prospective students. It will be initially located in the parish center. The goal is to grow the school by adding one grade at a time with a full enrollment of 160 students.
A key feature of the school is its Catholic identity, said Father Dhabliwala. All faculty, staff, and members of the board of directors will recite the Oath of Fidelity to the magisterium. Students will attend Mass each morning as part of their schedule. The academy purposefully sets out to be an affordable private school with a tuition of $8,700. Applications are still being accepted.
According to the Chesterton Schools Network, their schools provide a “joyfully Catholic, classical education” for students with a curriculum “taught through the lens of the Catholic faith.”
The network began in 2007 with a school in Minnesota. There are now more than 40 affiliated schools in the U.S. and Canada, with additional schools slated to open this year.