Building America's Superschool

School choice has been a huge issue in Cherokee County. Now one private school hopes to launch itself to the top of the national school rankings.

Pop quiz: America’s first superschool will have which of the following?

  1. Three greenhouses, including one based on the vegetation of the Mojave Desert and another based on the vegetation of South America.
  2. A mock surgery center with a torso for students to revive by shocking the heart with a defibrillator.
  3. A jet to fly on a whim to the places the students are studying.
  4. All of the above.

If you answered D, you're correct.

Holdheide Academy is set to break ground on a $60 million facility on 87 acres in Woodstock in less than two years. The goal isn't to teach the next set of Cherokee County or Georgia or even national leaders, but to develop the world’s next leaders.

That's a big step in a nation that has sunk in global educational rankings. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of 70 nations, released in December 2010, placed the United States in the middle on reading and toward the bottom in math.

That led U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to renew calls for educational reform. “The hard truth is that other high-performing nations have passed us by during the last two decades. … In a highly competitive knowledge economy, maintaining the educational status quo means America’s students are effectively losing ground.”

“When you add in private schools and preschools, it makes your community more appealing.”

That global education gap also applies locally as communities compete to lure businesses and jobs and.

“When we have businesses that look to relocate, they always look at the schools,” said Woodstock's economic development director, Billy Peppers.

would offer a one-of-a-kind option in Cherokee County, which has seen an , including the .

Holdheide Director Tammy Dorsten said Holdheide blends three schools of thought on education—traditional, Montessori and Reggio Emilia—into hands-on and child-centered lessons. That approach, plus the resources available to execute it, will make the school unique in the United States.

“We allow the kids to use their imagination and things around them to create art,” Dorsten said.

Additionally, she said, the hands-on curriculum will focus on finding their passion and helping students to “discover what they were meant to do” for a profession.

The school has 50 pupils, ranging from infants to second-graders, in a building dating to the mid-1800s. Within 36 months, Holdheide intends to have 300 students in a state-of-the-art facility in Downtown Woodstock as the school gradually expands through 12th grade.

Dorsten is negotiating with a local architecture firm that is prepared to donate the blueprints and land to Holdheide Academy. Pending that donation, the next steps are a bank loan and the groundbreaking within 18 months if all goes according to plan.

For the Students

Tuition is hefty, right at $1,000 a month for some ages, but comes with all the perks and luxury a $60 million facility can offer.

The goal is for students to realize their passion before they reach college so they don't waste three or four years on a major they don’t love, Dorsten said.

How would Holdheide differ from the nation's top schools?

In 2011, Newsweek ranked the School of Science and Engineering Magnet in Dallas as the top high school in America.

That school boasts of having a robotics lab, an electron microscope and European trips.

The blueprints for Holdheide include a robotics lab and international trips, plus:

  • Mojave Desert and South American rain forest greenhouses.
  • Avionics labs to plot trips to take with the school's private jet.
  • A credit account to learn to manage money.
  • A mock surgical center where students will be able to shock a torso.
  • A dermatologist office.
  • A hair salon.
  • An ophthalmologist office.
  • A recording studio.
  • A commercial kitchen.
  • An Olympic-size swimming and diving center.
  • Two aquariums.

Because doctors’ appointments cause scheduling nightmares for working parents, the school will offer a pediatrician, a dentist and chiropractors for students to visit during the school day between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

For the Community

The economic benefits for Cherokee County can't be measured yet, but such a nation-leading school would increase the value of Woodstock for prospective businesses, said Peppers, Woodstock's economic development director.

“You can’t tie a direct economical impact, but when you can add various educational programming, it definitely adds to your community’s portfolio," he said. "When you add in private schools and preschools, it makes your community more appealing.”

Statistics back that up. A Daily Finance article shows that the top school districts surround areas of big business and capital such as Washington, DC. 

Dorsten said one of the reasons she wants to open an enhanced Holdheide is to bring big businesses into the area, especially those with chief executives who want to put their children in the best school in the country.

In addition to the luxury and education, students would be required to give back, enhancing the effects on the community:

  • Kindergartners through sixth-graders would do four service projects in the Atlanta area each year.
  • Seventh- through ninth-graders would travel around the country to do service projects.
  • The oldest grades would do two international service projects.

The students would have to plan, fund and implement their projects, Dorsten said.

Some of the resources at the school, including the auditorium, recording studio, kitchen and swimming center, will be available for the community to rent.

The money raised from such rentals will pay for up to 20 scholarships to the school, Dorsten said.

For the Environment

Holdheide Academy is part of the International Baccalaureate program, an alterative accreditation that focuses on building world leaders by teaching them deductive reasoning and problem solving early.

The school also strives to teach the children to be environmentally conscious in their studies.

By the time students graduate, they will have visited all seven continents, including Antarctica, where Dorsten will take them to study global warming and whale migration.

The school's plans are in an early stage, but they are far from a pipe dream, Dorsten said.

The push for greater school choice and higher standards for education is a growing concern in Cherokee County and requires hiring more qualified educators to teach at higher levels for students who are willing to be pushed, she said.

“America is 25th in education,” Dorsten said. “That is scary.”

This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Holly Springs, Hickory Flat and beyond are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.

Jamie December 30, 2011 at 01:19 PM
My previous comment has disappeared. Please check into Holdheide. The concept is excellent and the owner has a great heart. Sadly, if it is the future of our county, then I guess yelling at children, leaving children between the ages of two to five unattended in hallways to nap as punishment and other incidents are going to be the norm. http://decal.ga.gov/ProviderSearch/SiteDetail.aspx?id=AYG2LOZS6G4D
Jessie Gable December 30, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Jamie, we didn't delete your comment. Thanks for your input!
Tammy Dorsten January 01, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Holdheide does what is always best for its students. After exhausting possibilities within the classroom, children, who were disturbing other students and keeping them awake during naptime, have been moved right outside their classroom, with their teacher sitting within 5 feet them and in full sight as well as infront of the director's office and were never left unattended. This was never done as punishment, but was done for the benefit of all of the students involved. The children napping in their class were able to fall asleep, and the students who were removed from their "audience" also fell asleep. A place within the director's office has been created so that children who are unable to nap can have a place to stay. Holdheide also does everything it can to work with students with specific needs, yet sadly, there have been some students whom we have had to ask to leave the program because their needs were outside of our expertise. Holdheide also works very hard to train teachers who have not had the experience or the education that would best benefit our students, yet there have been times when some teachers have not been able to meet the standards and have been asked to leave as well.
Jamie January 03, 2012 at 10:35 AM
It is against state rules to place older children in the infant room. I have seen it at Holdheide. Loving enviorents do not include screaming at a child to obey or cursing where children are nearby. And what about the baby in the state report who was left alone in a room for hours? Cameras do not constitute supervision- especially when parents pay a premium for Holdheide services.
Tammy Dorsten January 03, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Jamie - Children are not screamed at to obey and definititly not cursed at. The state report was for a child who was sick. I took him into a back room, away from other children and rocked him to sleep, I put him in crib to sleep amd tiptoed out the door. I stood at the door, watching him through the window, so that he could sleep undisturbed, Since I was not in the room and I was honest with the state as to what I had done, all of the investigators involved stated that they understood what had happened, but since I had shut the door, the state sighted me. Had I left the door cracked open, the state said it would have been within guidelines. I had called my state representative as this whole incident was happeniing, leaving her messages. All of these things were also done with the mothers consent and knowledge, She was told that she'd loose her job if she left work to come and get her child, so I did what was best for this baby, for the other children left in my care, and for one of my families. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but maybe I'd leave the door cracked open, so that the state would be satisfied. Jamie - you, as a former employee, should know that there isn't anything that I wouldn't do for my staff or my students, from filing their refrigerators with much needed food, to taking their child out for amazing summers of incredible opportunities. I'd hope that you had found some happiness after being let go in 2008 and I pray that 2012 brings you peace.
Jamie January 03, 2012 at 05:56 PM
I am not a former employee.
John January 04, 2012 at 06:59 PM
A couple of points to this concept: (1) I don't want a school trying to steer my child's career choices when they're 8 years old (Tammy mentions this age in her video)-especially Holdheide. I went to college thinking I wanted to be an architect. I ended up with a business degree and work in finance which I enjoy. Deciding on course study is a parent and child's decision. Its not something I want Tammy and Holdheide managing. What I want a good solid fundamental eduction (reading, writing, math, history, etc.) for my child. Leave the career choices for the 8-year olds to be managed by the child's parents, not Holdheide. (2) There is no way I would ever let Tammy or her staff take my child to an on site doctor. This is such a private and personal matter. Holdheide should have no involvement in this kind of stuff at all. Knowing from past experiences with this place, I can just see it now. My child has an on-site doctor's appointment only to have me find Tammy and her staff gossiping to one another about the doctor's outcome. (3) The idea of getting on a jet and flying throughout the country is a novel one at best. I hope Holdheide has plenty of insurance........ Being a parent of a former Holdheide child, I have no trust or faith in anything Tammy says. I've been yelled at, lied to and overcharged. I suggest people read the Bright From The Start report, especially the January 2010 results.
Leigh January 04, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I had my child at Holdheide far longer than I should have, and still can't forgive myself. I personally have no faith that this project will ever get off the ground as this is just one in a series of grand plans that Tammy has had for her school. However, if parents are actually looking into this, they deserve to know the kind of environment into which they are entrusting their children's care. Reviews of this story, previous stories about this proposed school on this site, reviews of Holdheide on Kudzu, they all have negative comments. There can't be this many disgruntled parents all fabricating the same stories! And on almost each occasion, Tammy attempts to explain away each complaint with a story even my pre-schooler wouldn't believe. Comments to the prior article were disabled as the moderator stated that they were not relevant to the story, but rather past events of Ms. Dorsten and her school. That is still relevant! This woman is proposing to have people spend a lot of money, investing in her school or their child's education. She is expecting people to entrust the care of their children to her. Her past actions and evaluations as an educator and business owner are EXTREMELY relevant. Tammy is putting herself, her ideas and Holdheide into the public, looking for business and praise. The public deserves to hear from past clients who have no stake in the success of the school, but as parents feel a duty to inform others from repeating the same mistake.
Jessie Gable January 04, 2012 at 10:35 PM
As the editor and moderator of this site, I'd just like to point out that the prior post about Holdheide was a blog post and the comments were disabled at the request of the author and because they were largely off topic. Anyone who wants to blog on Patch can request that we close the comments, and if we deem them largely off topic or inappropriate, we can close them. We will only delete comment that are obscene in nature or language. Patch will not disable comments on a news story unless those comments are obscene. We think that your comments and opinions are vital to our site and encourage comments. Thanks for your input.
Phoebe January 04, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Hi John, I can certainly appreciate your concerns. We all want what's best for our children and frankly different things are best for different kids. What Holdheide is trying to do is connect the kids to learning in a way that appeals to them. Sure, Tammy has mentioned finding a child's passion early and honing in on it, but most people, as you pointed out, change their minds along the way. That's normal, and from my personal experience with both Tammy and the school I know that Holdheide encourages the children learn as much and in as many ways as possible. That is why the plans for the campus are so huge. To provide as much opportunity as possible for our kids and how they best learn. As far as medical appointments and trips on jets, HIPPA and other state and federal regulations are in place that require parental consent. If those things aren't right for you, you can simply opt out. As for the Bright From the Start report, I have read all of them and see that every complaint has been addressed and brought into compliance. As I mentioned before different children have different needs and thrive in different environments. I understand if Holdheide wasn't right for your family. However, my child is thriving there. With all due respect I appreciate your concerns, but would rather let the school focus on educating my child than defending itself against issues that were successfully resolved a year ago.
Phoebe January 04, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Leigh, because of the anonymous nature of the internet I would not be surprised if a few parents created multiple accounts to post multiple negative comments each. It happens all the time. No school is perfect, nor is every school right for every child. What I can say from my experience with Holdheide is that Tammy and her staff has the best interests of the children as their core focus. Sure, they make mistakes, but they also learn from them, correct them and continuously improve. You're right, Tammy's past performance is incredibly relevant. There were issues at the school. And they were quickly corrected. That part of her past is also relevant and seems to get overlooked. In fact, go back to her Bright From the Start reports. She hasn't had any issues in quite some time. And all of the reports state that she is in compliance with all regulations. Considering that many schools in our area can't even meet the No Child Left Behind standards -- for several years in a row -- that's saying a lot about the efforts that everyone at Holdheide puts in. The simple fact of the matter is that Holdheide is accredited, not in jeopardy of losing their accreditation, and teaching kids in a way that they connect to and are excited to learn. I'm sorry that Holdheide wasn't right for your family and I hope that you've found a place that is perfect for you. Personally, I am glad Tammy & Holdheide are here.
Twin Mom January 05, 2012 at 12:38 AM
As a parent who has children at Holdheide I am thrilled with the education they are receiving. I have popped in to the school of occasion and have never been met with anything but professional behavior from the staff. Personally I enjoy the person talks that I have had with Tammy and the staff. Tammy has been a tremendous influence how my little guys treat each other, between her and myself my children prefer each other now. My daughter had some terrible anxiety issues before coming to Holdheide and not you can see such a difference in her, much more calm. Ms. Byers is a very patient and kind teacher to the point that my 6 yr old son reads everything and daughter is a math wiz at 6. My 6 yr old girl says "Mrs. Tammy is very nice and grateful for what she has and she loves us" . I mean COME ON... a 6 yr old (not told what to say but asked what she thought) will tell on anyone, especially mine. Kids love to tattle tale. My sons comment when asked..."Mrs. Tammy is good teacher and she knows everything". Again really....I have stopped by at all times of the day and have never seen anything but professionalism out of Tammy and her staff. I appreciate that some parents love the status quo and Holdheide isn't that, It is so much more. Tammy has wonderful hopes and dreams for our children and their futures, she truly cares for them above all. I am excited to see what the future holds for us at Holdheide.
Vanessa Johnson Smith January 05, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I believe that Tammy does have a great vision and passion for education for the children. However, as the former parent of 2 that attended their I just feel that her direct contact with them should be limited. I was there for 3 years and had constant communication with her and the staff. Tammy has the great skill of identifying wonderful teachers. They really connected with my child and help him to advance. My communication with Tammy and the teachers never "matched". I got details and specfics from the teachers however Tammy allways identified "issues and problems" that the teachers did not see or have. Trying to have the conversation to understand this was "null & void". I am the mother of the 10 month old that the report was written up on for her school. The statement given by her is false. She wouldn't even admit that much to me when I asked about it. It was resolved because I took my kids out the day I found out. Like I said before, great vision but direct contact with kids needs to be cut short.
Beach girl January 06, 2012 at 12:20 AM
My children have attended this school for 3 years and I was also in attendence when the incident with the baby occured OVER A YEAR AGO! There were 2 teachers in TEARS because they couldn't make this baby happy and I was in the office when Tammy spoke with the mother. Tammy did everything possible for this child and all of these families. If other moms were IN THE BUILDING and they thought that something was wrong - why in GOD's GREEN EARTH didn't they DO SOMETHING???? There were also 18 teachers present that day. I was also present when Tammy called the mother to come and pick up this child, as well as when Tammy explained everything that she did to try to soothe this child. We are SO HAPPY at Holdheide. These people left nearly a year ago. Go and find your own happiness. Tammy was right to hire lawyers because you have slandered and defamed her enough! Your comments are also guilty of cyber stalking. My children are thrilled with their school. They love their teachers. They also have to give Tammy a hug before we leave each day. No other school offers what Holdheide does. Ask if the others can produce test scores even half way close to Holdheide's - I'll bet they don't even think to test their students - because the chains are day cares - not schools. To the people continuing to post - be happy with your children - get a life and leave the rest of us ALONE! STOP TRYING to ruin a school that you don't even attend! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Beach girl January 06, 2012 at 12:27 AM
People - remember that Disney approached over 1,000 banks and drained a swamp - and every single parent saves thousands of dollars each year to bring their child to spend some time there. Disney, Edison, Einstein, Lincoln, and every other person who has enhanced and changed things for the better in this country was criticized and chastised. I give credit to Tammy for trying to do something to better education in our area! I agree that the people who left over a year ago should move on and leave this school and its owner alone - what have you people ever done to better anyone else or this community as a whole? My guess is that you simply collect a paycheck, put others down and rarely look in the mirror for answers to your own problems. Sometimes, it is you and your children who are the problems - not everyone else!
Vanessa Johnson Smith January 06, 2012 at 12:46 AM
@ Beach girl. I did not hide my name and I am not trying to destroy Tammy. Neither am I "cyber stalking". Please go back and read my statement fully. I said that she has great vision and she picks wonderful teachers that are great at educating our children. it is the teachers that are making a diffrence in our kids lives. I have been very quite on "social media" concerning my incident and the only reason I posted to this was because Tammy directly lied in her explination above. I don't know who you are but if you were there when she gave me the explination for calling me, she kept eluding to something was wrong with my child, that he needed to learn that when food is offered, he should eat. Never did she tell me what she has posted above. She denied that he was ever alone. I was working from home that day, and had just called earlier that morning to check on him due to the changes in his room. Never was I endagered of being FIRED! I'm glad you are happy, but during my 3 years up until that incident, I recruited for her and was used to speak to parents that considred the school. You couldn't tell me nothing about her. Unfortunatly, everyone has to learn their own way and I pray that no one has to learn my way.
Vanessa Johnson Smith January 06, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I posted my comment below but I also need to add, I have only spoken on this because Tammy opened the door by given a direct lie to the situation in the response above. Simple solution, don't lie.
Beach girl January 06, 2012 at 03:06 AM
I also have a child who has had developmental delays. The teachers did not tell me either - they also left that for Tammy to explain to me. I'm not sure if they didn't feel qualified to explain the delays to me, or if they were scared at what my reaction might be, but I do know that Tammy has done a great job at finding solutions for my child - whether they be specialists, or an alternative learning apparatus.
Jamie January 06, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Simply put- I am appaulled that any issues were discussed with any parent other than the child's. You, dear beach girl just proved how much confidential information is shared. As far as child abuse - if you suspect it you are to report it.
Beach girl January 06, 2012 at 03:51 AM
just to clarify - Tammy called me and asked for possible reasons why a baby would have a dry diaper after so many hours and if it was possible for a child to be ok with a dry diaper if a child wasn't eating - Tammy did not mention any names - even though I asked. I only knew of the individuals involved because I was present, as I had come to check on my own child and the breathing treatments for my child. I have not suspected abuse- my comment simply stated the discussions that I had occured between members of "The Group" when others were absent.
Vanessa Johnson Smith January 06, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Beach girl, I have no idea why we are not sticking to the subject. You accused me of trying to bring Tammy down and then talked personally about "a group" and their children. What does that have to do with the treatment of my son and Tammy's vision?Please do not try to use me, my situation and Tammy's problems with others as a way to get out what you say negative concerning someone else's business. As long as people exsist there will always be issues, how would you feel if we opened your closet and exposed your demons. So lets get back to topic!!!! Like I said, I have not hid my name and since we want to be specfic, the only outside source of information that came to me was from the parent that Tammy met outside of the door while my son was in the room alone. All other information came from the teachers. None of the teachers had all of the information to place together like I was able to. The infant teacher was there when Tammy came to pull him out of the room. She did not feed him or take him to the teachers that he was comfortable with to see if the could get him to eat. (She told me she did, but the other teachers confirmed that they had not seen him all day). He was left in that room until discovered by another teacher who confronted Tammy on why he was in a room alone. Two other teachers observed her walking away from the room leaving him alone. Tammy has never had a problem calling me before, what made this day diffrent.
Vanessa Johnson Smith January 06, 2012 at 03:20 PM
God forbid, anything happens to anyones' kid, but you can tell me that you would see someone lie about what happened to your child and say "oh, no big deal". If you truely know me then you know that I am about honesty and it says a lot that Tammy could not talk to me about this when I got all the facts and that she has not responded to any of this. Please once again. Leave everyone out of this, I have kindly withheld other information that did not involve my child. So please show some dignity and remain on topic. Please do not get this mistaken for bitterness, but if you have read the paper lately, it is things like this that get overlooked and then something terrible happens to a child and everyone question why no one said anything.
Jessie Gable January 07, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Comments that identify people and topics that aren't addressed in this story will be removed.
Jamie January 09, 2012 at 12:56 PM
You can build a super school and have the most admirable of ambitions; but if Disney had their clients (even former ones) complaining like seen here their yearly revenue would suffer. Creating a positive learning environment isn't about reinventing the light blub or a being laughed at. If ffamilies invested in our public school system we would see better results. A boutique school isn't a viable answer, especially with such a big price tag. Why not push for more charter schools or better teacher to student ratios in the public schools? Who really owns the land that Holdheide is proposing to build? What is the name of the firm who is donating so much - wouldnt they want credit For participating in such a great place? What are they getting out if it? Has the city of Woodstock been involved in this plan's development? Has the land been rezoned from residential to school/commercial use? If we all came together and invesed in the public school system that is accessible to everyone we could see similar results as promised by Holdheide without all of the drama. Kids need parental involvement, a good atmosphere and qualified & engaging teachers not a theme park. If you are considering getting your toddler to read college entrance exams and out performing a four year old then there are other issues that should be addressed.
Jamie January 09, 2012 at 02:37 PM
And sometimes, when you have a large and varied group with valid complaints, it is the service provider who has the issue. Funny how my child was never a problem child and how emotionally defensive you are yet without a fact. Comparing someone to Disney, Edison or Mother Theresa does not enhance their status to that level. What have you done to enhance life in Cherokee county? Pay big $ do sent your child to an exclusive school? At least your money stays here.


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