Transformative Education: Reaching Goals Together

Earlier this month, AYA development director Erin Blair interviewed Lisa Kelly, executive director of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. 

Erin Blair (AYA):
The educational tax credit system that has been approved in recent years by Georgia lawmakers has been criticized by some as “offering more privilege to the rich or privileged.” How do you respond to that?

Lisa Kelly Photo-3Lisa Kelly (GOAL): The Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program was the first organization formed to implement Georgia’s education tax credit law, and GOAL is the largest of such organizations by a significant margin. From the outset, GOAL has awarded scholarships on the basis of financial need, through careful review of family size and income. I believe the results speak for themselves. Since inception, GOAL has awarded scholarships to more than 9,800 students all across the state. The average income of the recipient families is $25,496, and the average scholarship award is $3,682. Minority students have received over 43% of these scholarship awards.

Through this program, low and middle income families are able to seek the best K-12 educational opportunity for their children. Now, children who were previously limited because of a financial barrier can fulfill their academic potential and benefit from important character formation.

Can you give us an idea of the depth and breadth of the impact that scholarships awarded by GOAL have made across our state?

GOAL has awarded scholarships throughout Georgia — from the north Georgia mountains to Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Albany, Columbus, and many other cities — with the number of awarded scholarships proportionate to the population in each of those Georgia regions. Frankly, one of the beautifully designed components of this tax credit opportunity is that it taps into a deep yearning on the part of Georgia taxpayers to improve K-12 education in their own communities, and allows these contributors to do so. We have conducted surveys of GOAL recipient families across the state, and parents express their relief and delight in their children’s new private schools, often citing safety, classroom conduct, and academic excellence as meaningful differences.

We have seen a significant growth in the broad understanding among the AYA constituency in the tremendous impact that GOAL can make for a school like AYA.  How can our constituents share this understanding with our lawmakers to help them clearly see the need to raise the cap on educational tax credits?

Our perspective — which is shared by tens of thousands of Georgians — is that under the present Education Expense Credit program, student outcomes have improved, and communities throughout Georgia have been strengthened. The program, which empowers both low and middle income families and prevents the type of government over-regulation that is hurting school-choice programs in other states, is one of the national school-choice movement’s great success stories.

We would encourage those of you who have a close relationship with your legislators to visit or call those lawmakers to

  • Explain the need for a significant cap increase;
  • Encourage them to resist attempts by some school-choice advocates to undermine the present program; and
  • Inform them that GOAL proposed important amendments which, in addition to raising the cap, would increase SSO transparency and accountability, prevent a few large corporations from absorbing precious tax credits to the exclusion of thousands of individual taxpayers, and protect private-school independence from excessive government regulation.

Finally, while the failure of state lawmakers to expand this program is frustrating, national school-choice experts consider our tax credit scholarship program to be a model one. We are thankful that each year there are $58 million worth of tax credits to improve the lives of children and the communities in which they reside. Nevertheless, the possibilities for empowering even more families who are desperate for greater opportunities for access to learning dictate that we remain hopeful and diligent.


GOAL scholarship programWe are thrilled to work with Atlanta Youth Academy, the mission of which we embrace and appreciate whole-heartedly. Your delivery of an excellent Christian education to Atlanta youth is changing lives and developing leaders. Thank you, AYA, for all that you do for Georgia’s children!


Peter Rooney’s Mid-Year Report

January 4, 2016

AYA Parents,

We hope that you and your family had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! God was very faithful in 2015, and we look forward to what He will continue to do at AYA in 2016.  There have been a number of fundamental curricular and extra-curricular enrichments and enhancements this academic year that I am honored to share with you.

• The 2015-16 academic year began with a successful orientation for our new teachers and a fresh beginning to the year for our returning faculty. Co-acting Deans Katie Koerten and Paulette Woodruff led the faculty in a Chapel service which focused our attention on the reason we are here; this spiritual focus has further infused into the depths of our campus this semester.

Horacena Tate, Georgia State Senator, delivered the keynote address at our Honor Assembly in September; Senator Tate highlighted the life-long importance of truthful character amongst our students.  Most immediately, students signed the AYA Honor Code and committed to upholding integrity inside and outside of the classroom.  AYA’s Junior Beta Club inductions occurred during this event as well.

The Seventh and Eighth Graders participated in the Civil Rights and College Exposure Trip in October, traveling the state of Georgia and visiting boarding schools, colleges and civil rights sites.

• A new critical thinking program, headed by our Co-acting Dean and Learning Specialist, Paulette Woodruff, is now being taught as a separate class for Grades 3-8.  Teachers work from a list of grade-specific skills to ensure that standards are being met.  Students are exposed to critical thinking daily, but specifically in a weekly session.

The Board of Trustees hired a facilitator for a strategic planning process that will gain shape in the coming years. The strategic plan will be refined throughout the spring and then completed by May 2016.

• The Academy celebrated Thanksgiving with a wonderful chapel service. We welcomed back to campus Rock Curlee and Derrick Lockwood and honored their steadfast commitment and service to AYA.

AYA has made strides to significantly upgrade its safety and security program.  The completion of the gym storage unit has allowed for more space in the gym and has provided a secure storage space for AV and technological equipment. Numerous improvements were made to our plumbing infrastructure as well.

“T.I.E.S. to Success” is an after-school program that was implemented by 4th Grade teacher, Jamal Webb, this fall.  The purpose is to instill the qualities of Tenacity, Integrity, Eminence, and Success, all while teaching young men how to successfully tie a neck tie and prepare for the business/professional world.

• Our Pre-K through 5th Grade students performed a Christmas Pageant for our AYA community last week. It was not only beautiful and vibrant, but it also focused attention on our Christian mission. Several of these pageant performances will be performed again at our Christmas Chapel service, keynoted by Andrew Cathy, on Friday.  Our annual Christmas Chapel featured a keynote address by Andrew Cathy who pointed us to the most significant gift we are given in life, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Field trips during the fall included serious academic content and refreshing breaks from the classroom. These trips included: The Center for Puppetry Arts, Spivey Hall, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and the High Museum.

This semester has been a series of such momentous moments — we are hopeful and prayerful for many more in 2016. Thank you for entrusting your children with us here at AYA. Please let me know how we can better serve you —
parents, mentors, leaders for these incredible youth.

We look forward to welcoming students back to campus tomorrow as we begin an incredible 2016.


Peter Rooney

Peter Rooney at the start of the 2014-15 school year, welcoming AYA students back to campus.