Parents and students filled the Tilden Campus gymnasium at Foundation Academy Thursday, Jan. 11, to hear president Dave Buckles present his annual State of the Academy address. The evening was rounded out by performances from the Elementary Ensemble, theatrical and video spotlights, and the Acoustic Praise Band.
Buckles and Carol Grosshans, vice president of education, held a “fireside chat” at their seventh joint State of the Academy, sharing impressive statistics on the Foundation Class of 2023. The school focuses on four pillars: Academics, Fine Arts, Athletics and Faith.
The 70 graduates earned 1,200 dual-enrollment college credits and more than $5 million in college scholarships, 31 received an AP Scholar distinction (as opposed to four eight years ago) and 10 of them received the top highest ranking (eight years ago there were zero).
Buckles said the school outscored several local public schools and scored evenly with local private schools on testing.
“SAT and ACT continue to be above the state average,” he said.
The school has seen an 800% increase in AP scores and 200% increase in Bright Futures scholarships from 2016 to today, he added.
Buckles shared exciting campus changes for the 2025-26 school year: Sixth-graders will be incorporated into the Upper School middle school program.
“Our Lower School campus is so full so we need to create space,” he said. “They will be in their own little corner of our world. … We have our tech building which will become our sixth-grade center. … This empties space on our Plant and Lakeside campuses.”
Foundation has added mental health counselors to its staff in the wake of COVID-19 and the realization that students are dealing with mental health issues.
“One out of three students between 13 and 18 (is) experiencing anxiety, and those are creeping more and more down to our elementary campus,” Buckles said.
One counselor will lead a parenting class at First Baptist Church Winter Garden in a few weeks.
“This is a tool that is so important that will help you in this unique time in your life and journey,” Buckles said.
The school’s fine arts department received a shoutout from Grosshans, who praised director Christina Haak, music and choir director Greg Csefko, choreographer Jennifer Csefko, music teacher Emily Hickey and music and drama teacher Cynthia Kime.
“We had 24 thespian attend our district festival, Dakota Darnell won Best in Show for a play she wrote called ‘Honeybee,’ and the art department continues to be part of various competitions and shows like the Winter Park Art Festival, SOBO Art Gallery and Arts in Public Places at (Winter Garden) City Hall,” Grosshans said.
Athletics is taking a positive step with the hiring of athletic director Robert East, who previously served in an interim capacity.
“His 27-year experience in private school education made him the perfect guy — from athletic directing to coaching to teacher and now director of operations,” Buckles said.
He will be assisted by Crystal Smith. Denzel Irvin is working with students as well.
Over the years, Foundation has added batting cages, gym bleachers and a gym floor to increase the sports presence on campus.
Buckles introduced the fourth pillar, Faith, and said the school set out to hire a director of spiritual development who will take Foundation’s faith to an even higher level.
Jeff Lawrence, who has been hired for that role, “is the guy we’ve been praying for,” Buckles said.
“As we continue to walk this path together, we’re seeing students walk into the class and ask teachers to pray for them,” Grosshans said. “We’re seeing students … in high school saying, ‘We want to give up our time for lunch and start a student-led bible study. … Our middle school students said, ‘Hey, what about us?’ so we have teachers holding lunchtime bible study.”
“And this is on top of chapel that students go to,” Buckles added.
Lawrence had a chance to speak to the parents:
“The foundation of Foundation Academy is God’s word of Jesus Christ. We know that to be true — when that isn’t stable, then nothing else can be stable. … As a dad myself, we’re looking around at culture and we’re seeing culture is after the hearts and minds of our kids. … We want to send your students not into ‘culture to survive’ but into ‘culture to thrive.’”
Buckles’ address focused on humility, gratitude, nurturing, development and support.
“I stand before you filled with gratitude,” he said. “We are committed to nurturing the mind through education and academics (and) dedicated to nourishing the souls of students through spiritual development. … A school is only as strong as its families. It’s your time, gifts and talents that truly make our school great. Your dedication and tireless efforts are the backboard to our success.”
A testament to Foundation’s top-notch education, Buckles said, is the classrooms are full.
“We’ve received over 462 applications for this coming year, and we’re at capacity,” he said. “Families want to enroll two years in advance to be part of Foundation Academy.”
Another change coming to the school is a shift in staffing. Grosshans, who has more than 40 years in education, has announced her retirement at the end of the 2024-25 school year.
“There are seasons in life, and we have walked a few seasons together. I’m about to embark in another season, and it’s called retirement. … I will be a full-time grandma to our nine grandchildren. I’m excited to see what God is continuing to do.”
She plans to return to the school on occasion to mentor to teachers.
Buckles announced Jackie Conover, principal of the Plant Street Campus, will assume the role of vice president of education and will spend the last half of the 2024-25 school year working with Grosshans to ensure a smooth transition.
“Jackie imparts the culture and the family feel that we protect so much here at Foundation Academy,” Buckles said.