A New Challenge
Despite its inevitability, change is something not often embraced, especially later in life. But David Rhodes, the former headmaster of the prestigious Darlington School in Rome, enveloped change in a bear hug in January 2006 when he announced he would leave Darlington, where he’d worked and lived for 28 years, for King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta.
And it wasn’t just a job change. Because Darlington is a boarding school, Rhodes and his wife, Dee Dee, who raised their daughters on Darlington’s campus, never owned a home. “Last June, at age 50, I moved, got a new job and bought my first house,” Rhodes says. “When our daughters heard what we were doing, they asked if I was going through some sort of mid-life crisis.”
But there was no crisis. Rhodes, who says he always planned to retire at Darlington, was simply intrigued by the challenge of helping King’s Ridge develop into a premier college prep school. Also, he says he believes “There’s something very special about this place.”
Rhodes was born in Decatur, but moved to North Carolina when he was in third grade. He earned a bachelor’s degree in science education from Wake Forest University in 1978 and, as a fledgling biology teacher, began his career at Darlington. In 1991, he moved from teaching and coaching to administration, first serving as Darlington’s dean of students and becoming headmaster five years later.
“I had 28 incredible years at Darlington,” Rhodes says. “I raised my family on that campus, had experiences and served in different roles which helped prepare me for the one I’ve now taken on. I can’t thank Darlington enough for that.”
King’s Ridge Christian School was founded five years ago after a group of families in north Fulton County, including Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, funded and executed a demographic survey assessing community desire and support for such an institution. Because of litigation and zoning issues surrounding the original site, King’s Ridge welcomed its first students in September 2001 in a renovated grocery store. Fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Southern Association of Independent Schools and Georgia Accrediting Commission, the new institution, serving students from kindergarten through 12th grade, grew to 318 students by school year 2006-2007. In May, King’s Ridge graduated its first seniors, six in all. “We anticipate next year’s enrollment to reach around 570,” Rhodes says.
And when those students return to school August 15, they won’t come to the renovated grocery store. Instead, students will enter the Barbara Adler Academic Center at the campus of King’s Ridge Christian School on the corner of Bethany Bend and Cogburn Roads. The academic center is one spectacular component of a five-phase building program, which Rhodes is overseeing on the 80-acre site.
The two-story, 65,000-square-foot building houses a media center, cafeteria, music and art rooms, 20 classrooms, a science lab, administrative offices and a full gymnasium. The stone and siding façade blends in with the neighborhood’s horse farm heritage; the interior features Craftsman-style architectural accents in the railings, windows and light fixtures. Next on the agenda is a 13,000-square-foot field house, high school and middle school buildings, performing arts centers, an athletic complex and several athletic fields.
The building program and $15 million capital campaign, for which $11.3 million has been raised, were two critical tasks facing Rhodes when he arrived at King’s Ridge. “We also needed to build a college guidance program, build a high school and focus on retaining admissions in high school and middle school,” he says.
The school was losing middle and high school students because of a lack of facilities, but the new academic center helped change that. “Our middle school retention is up to 90 percent in 2007, from 77 percent in 2006,” says Rhodes.
Rhodes gives King’s Ridge founding head Barbara Adler much of the credit for the school’s early success. “She did an amazing job of getting the school fully accredited in a short period of time,” he says. “She kept this boat afloat during years of struggle. To use a baseball metaphor, the bases were loaded and all we had to do was hit a bunt and the runs started coming in.”