History of TFS
A narrative history of Tallulah Falls School
Sparked by one woman’s dream, the legacy of Tallulah Falls School is established on a solid foundation with its bright light now a beacon for families seeking an affordable, first-class, college preparatory education for motivated students.
Through the decades of its existence on the rocky slopes of Cherokee Mountain, the school has evolved to meet the needs of its stakeholders. While Mary Ann Lipscomb dreamed of teaching area children to read, today’s TFS students are preparing for success in an increasingly sophisticated global economy.
Over the past 12 years, with the leadership of President and Head of School Larry A. Peevy and the guidance of an invested board of trustees, the school continues to illuminate a path focused on a promising future.
In the beginning – 1909
When Mary Ann Lipscomb, from Athens, Georgia, came up to Tallulah Falls to her summer cottage in 1905 and became acquainted with some of the mountain children and saw how eager they were to learn to read and write, she felt almost overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of their achieving this desire.
Lipscomb was a woman with great determination, and as president of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs (GaFWC), she was also a woman with considerable influence. At the 1906 GaFWC Convention, Lipscomb offered a resolution recommending the founding of a school by the Federation at Tallulah Falls. She concluded her resolution by saying: “My sisters, the question for you is not what you are going to get out of the world, but what you are going to give the world.” The resolution was unanimously adopted.
On June 30, 1909, the Tallulah Falls Industrial School was formally opened. The school’s one building sat on the original five acres of land given to the school by Sarah E. White. The first day of school was held on July 12, 1909, as the school opened its doors to the children of Habersham and Rabun counties. Annie Thrasher of Watkinsville, Georgia, was teacher, and 21 mountain boys and girls eager for learning were the school’s first pupils. TFS continued to be both a public and private institution for 50 more years (until 1970).
TFS established as private school – 1970
Beginning with the 1970-71 school year, after much correspondence and planning with the State Board of Education, TFS became a privately chartered institution and no longer accepted public funds for its operation.
Dr. Franklin Shumake became president of TFS in 1971, followed by Dr. Charles H. Green in 1989.
On October 10, 1996, TFS held groundbreaking ceremonies for two new structures: Federation Hall, a new dining facility, and the Lettie Pate Evans Student Center. Federation Hall was named in honor of the GaFWC, who had founded the school in 1909. The new student center was named in honor of Lettie Pate Evans, a lifelong friend of TFS and the school’s largest benefactor. Her legacy gift, administered through the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, today amounts to more than $9 million a year and is used to assist with the operation of the school and to provide scholarships to deserving students.
New leadership – 2007
In April 2007, Larry A. Peevy was appointed president and head of school by the Board of Trustees. With over 35 years of experience in college administration, as well as classroom teaching experience and boarding school experience, Dr. Peevy was uniquely qualified to lead TFS. His first task was to determine the state of the school, and working closely with faculty, staff, administrators, students and parents, he implemented a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). From this analysis, a clearly defined college-preparatory mission evolved, and from that unifying mission all other successes have followed: “Our mission is to prepare each student to thrive in life by elevating character and intellect in a challenging and diverse college preparatory environment.”
Not wasting any time, Dr. Peevy set about a reorganization of facilities in 2007, giving the middle school its own separate area and identity, in the Cannon Academic Building. Renovation of both upper school science labs was completed, and industrial arts moved into an adjacent facility previously used by plant services.
The 100th anniversary of TFS, in 2009, was a year-long celebration involving present and past students, faculty and staff; GaFWC members; supporters; and surrounding local and state leaders. It was a time for remembrance and renewed pride in being part of a close-knit school community that has flourished for more than a century.
The school received in 2009 and in 2014 its dual accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). Facilities, curriculum, information technology, enrollment, athletics and student life have all taken quantum leaps forward under Peevy’s leadership. The synergy among all of these facets working together as one has resulted in rapid, positive change. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
In terms of facilities, in 2011, when the school acquired The Lodge at Tallulah Falls, a 55-room hotel adjacent to the school farm property, much debate ensued as to the best school use of the facility. After consultation with architects, engineers and builders, it was determined that hotel rooms could become classrooms, and thanks to diligent work by contractors, the lodge was converted to a separate, beautiful new middle school campus. The Lucy A. Willard Middle School Academic Complex was completed in time for the opening of the 2011-12 academic year. Willard, for whom the facility is named, is a member of the Atlanta Woman’s Club and has contributed more than $1 million to the school.
The school’s $8 million upper school academic complex renovation project was completed in March of 2014. The renovation added a third floor to the academic complex with an additional 18,000 square feet of classroom space. A full renovation of the original two floors of the building was completed and a new high-tech media center opened. The renovation was completed in phases in a pay-as-we-go mode, so the school did not incur any debt in dramatically expanding and upgrading the facility. Not only did the renovation exponentially increased available classroom space, but it also created an entrance area that is used for special events and gatherings.
The academic complex is now the jewel of the school campus. In the fall of 2017, the TFS Board of Trustees voted to dedicate the renovated facility as the Larry A. Peevy Upper School Academic Complex.
Many other campus facilities have been upgraded as well. The Circle Building has new flooring, a new practice gymnasium, new bleacher seats in the main gymnasium, new video screens and carpet in the theater, and the exterior of the building has new awnings, doors and landscaping. Just outside the Circle Building a fire pit and plaza have been constructed.
Federation Hall, the dining hall, received new floors in the dining room, new tile and seating on the porch, as well as a new sound system and video monitors. A new climate-controlled server room on the lower level has consolidated much of the information technology equipment in one location facilitating maintenance and upkeep.
Willet Administration Building upgrades include the construction of a Trustees’ Board Room, new information technology offices on the third floor and a reorganized admissions area to better serve prospective students.
New carpet, a new entrance and vestibule, and a new roof have greatly improved the Chapel’s appearance.
The bedrock of any strong college preparatory program is a challenging and stimulating curriculum. At TFS, 18 college-credit courses are offered on campus to qualified juniors and seniors through a dual-enrollment program with Truett-McConnell College and Toccoa Falls College.
In addition, honors courses are offered in all core subject areas—English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign language and art. The arts are well represented in the curriculum, with courses in visual arts, theater arts, piano, concert choir, handbells and instrumental music. A sampling of other electives provide an eclectic mixture of subjects sure to pique student interests, including team building, engineering, broadcasting, culinary arts, journalism, leadership and psychology.
Our intelligent and highly motivated students enjoy classes with highly skilled teachers (all of whom are certified in their subject areas) in a small classroom setting of 15 students per class. The personal attention in a close-knit family atmosphere historically associated with TFS and cutting-edge technology help prepare our students to lead and thrive in life. The TFS balance of tradition and innovation makes the difference.
Technology upgrades ongoing
All students in grades five through 12 are issued laptop computers for their use. Smart TV’s have been installed in all classrooms on both the middle school and upper school campuses. A new wireless system increased campus coverage from one building to nine buildings. The school’s internet bandwidth has been upgraded ten-fold, and we now have fiber connectivity. The implementation and expanded use of RenWeb have greatly facilitated information sharing within the school community. Two new state-of-the-art media centers have been built, including a media center management system incorporating an e-book checkout system. Digital textbooks have been integrated into the system. A scalable digital camera system and mobile device synchronization system have been added. Multiple computers and peripherals have been added to the dormitories. The addition of two Mac labs, virtual reality and zSpace for lesson enhancement bring additional tools into the classroom in both the middle school and the upper school.
Enrollment on balanced, upward trajectory
Enrollment has nearly quadrupled under Peevy’s leadership, from 134 students, all boarders, in 2009, to 531 students, as of the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
TFS was founded in 1909 to provide educational opportunities for local mountain children, and today that founding mission has been rekindled. Dramatic enrollment growth on a scale of this magnitude, at a time of economic flux, is unusual and can be attributed to multiple factors: parents believe strongly in the school’s mission and its dual emphasis on elevating both character and intellect; in February of 2013 the school implemented an innovative tuition freeze in which a student’s base tuition rate locks in at the time of initial enrollment and will remain fixed for that student’s years at the school (there is a legacy component covering siblings); quality students want to be part of a school community where they are challenged academically; word has spread to surrounding communities about academic successes (high test scores at all grade levels and millions in college scholarship offers to graduating seniors each year); outreach efforts have resulted in an outstanding school image and heightened local awareness of the school; because the school is not tuition driven, with only about 20 percent of the school’s budget funded by tuition dollars, need-based financial assistance is available (more than $3.5 million in aid awarded annually); and the school has excellent admissions and advancement departments and the vision to use those departments wisely and creatively.
Growth has been in incremental stages following a balanced enrollment management plan. Today the school has a retention rate exceeding 90 percent, waiting lists for both dormitories, and waiting lists for most grades. Demand for student placements far exceeds supply.
Athletic programs mirror school growth
TFS athletic participation has grown to 12 sports, 44 teams, more than 35 coaches, and nearly 450 team participants among the various athletic opportunities.
Middle school athletic opportunities include: cross country, coed soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball, spirit cheer, swimming, baseball, golf, track & field and bass fishing.
Upper school athletic options include: cross country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, spirit cheer, swimming/diving, baseball, golf, tennis, track & field, bass fishing and precision rifle.
Within the last five years, TFS has improved athletic facilities with the addition of the Student Activity Center, Higgins Baseball Complex, Golf Performance Lab and Precision Rifle Range. A natatorium with a 10-lane competition pool is currently under construction. Tennis court resurfacing is planned for early summer. Further, we are beginning the renovation of our sports fitness facility.
TFS now offers precision riflery as a sport, now under USA Shooting and bass fishing as a GISA sport. MS girls soccer in planned in the spring of 2019. TFS provides additional teams within a sport when the need and logistics meld.
Character development is an important part of the TFS athletic experience, and most teams go well beyond normal practices and contests through volunteerism. Whether implementing theme-oriented contests, mentoring youth, volunteering labor to help local parks or organizations, or raising awareness or funds to partner with a specific cause, our coaches and athletes genuinely seek to make a difference.
Our high school teams have been honored with the Region 8A Sportsmanship Award 35 times in the last five years while our middle school teams have received the Tri-State Sportsmanship Award 27 times during the same time span.
In the last five years, our middle school teams have won 20 Tri-State Championships. At the high school level, volleyball qualified to state the last three years (Sweet 16 in 2018), boys basketball qualified to state the last two years (Sweet 16 in 2017), girls basketball set new records for number of wins, a record number of swimmers qualified to state and placed highest as a team, baseball recorded most number of season wins, track & field teams are often in the top 10 at state (two consecutive years of individual event state champions), and girls golf has had both individual and team success at area and state levels during the last three years. In 2018, they won regional and finished third in the state. In addition, multiple athletes across various sports have competed or are competing at the collegiate level.
The safety of our student-athletes is our foundational concern. We partner with Habersham Medical Center to employ a certified athletic trainer, follow GHSA protocol regarding heat/humidity/hydration and concussion protocol and have installed a Thor Guard lightning warning/detection/horn system at our upper field.
TFS remains steadfast as student-centered
Students are at the heart of our school. They are the best and the brightest, hailing from every corner of the state, the nation and the globe. They interact with faculty and staff to become a close-knit extended school family. They are diverse, intelligent, curious and accepting young people motivated to lead and be successful. Students are challenged to demonstrate great character in everything they do, from the classroom, to the dormitory, to the playing field, to the community at large. Our students don’t just talk about character; they live it, volunteering for community service projects each year through the Interact Club, Key Club, National Honor Society, Juniorettes, and other service groups. Two programs – the Tallulah 12 at the middle school and All In at the upper school – provide the framework for the character program.
Student ambassadors serve as role models for their peers and project a positive image of the school on and off campus.
The school is also one of the larger employers in the area – with 150 full- and part-time employees who serve as additional ambassadors of the TFS experience.
In 2014, the school launched a cycling event fundraiser for student scholarships. The ride takes cyclists through the breathtaking scenery of Northeast Georgia and has rapidly become a signature event for the school. Riders come from throughout the Southeast to experience the school’s warm hospitality. The fundraiser now generates more than $50,000 a year, making it possible for even more students to attend TFS. Leveraging community support through more than 130 businesses, organizations and individuals has brought new attention to the positive image of the school.
Mary Ann Lipscomb and our other founders would be proud of today’s students who personify the traditions and spirit which have come to be synonymous with the Light in the Mountains. In partnership with parents and guardians and the greater community, TFS focuses on nurturing and developing our greatest blessings, our students, and their futures are bright and full of promise.
Our 10-year campus master plan prioritizes major and minor construction and infrastructure projects to be undertaken on our campus. This forward-looking approach will ensure that prioritized projects match available funds with appropriate building locations to maximize campus site utilization and minimize costs.
TFS remains student-focused and mission-driven, a winning combination for any school. Our strategic plan, thoughtfully compiled with input from all stakeholders, is not a finished document. Instead, it is a blueprint for change that is itself subject to change as future circumstances and opportunities dictate. These are indeed exciting times to be a part of the TFS community!