Around Academy – Issue Seven


Mark HellerDear Academy at the Lakes Community:

I’d like to use my space in this edition of the newsletter to highlight the results of our recent Parent Survey. Before we dive into the results, I want to share two essential facts about the survey: (1) we are grateful for the very positive reviews we have (again) received from our parent body; and (2) we take all of the constructive comments very seriously. As we read comments that express dissatisfaction or disappointment, we work to put ourselves in the shoes of the writer. We pay close attention to those comments and whatever suggestions you make through this vehicle. We appreciate the time you take to share your impressions, and we devote considerable effort to reading, understanding, and learning from them. Thank you for the feedback; it helps us to improve!

In general, the survey shows that our parents are very satisfied with the Academy Experience. 97% of the 127 responses indicated that their family’s experience has either met or exceeded their expectations. In addition, 99% of the respondents said they would recommend Academy to others.

The quality of our employees (teachers and administrators) emerged as the most important factor to our families by a significant margin (over curriculum, class size, and technology integration). The level of parental satisfaction with Academy’s delivery in each of these areas was strong (averaging over 4.3 on a 5-point scale in each area).

No matter the age of their child(ren), Academy parents rank College Counseling and College Placement as being very important. They are also very satisfied with the service we provide in this arena.

Though it is not ranked as being very important, food service emerged as an area of weakness for us (though there were positive comments as well as negative). Many parents suggested the building of a cafeteria (or restaurant) would be a welcome addition.

Student growth in the 6 C’s (critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, citizenship, and character) is seen as very strong.

Administrators are seen as accessible and a great strength of the school. (100% of those who responded felt that administrators are accessible).

Affordability was a strong theme throughout (as it always should be), but that theme was accompanied by strong recognition of the value received for the tuition dollars spent.

A number of the “if you could change one thing …” suggestions coincided with initiatives that are either underway, in the planning stages, or have been recently accomplished, including: cutting the curb by Tire Choice to improve the McCormick Campus traffic flow; examining block scheduling in the upper grades; improving the outdoor basketball court on McCormick Campus (Thank you, Downing family!); providing more international student travel opportunities; re-working the McCormick Campus pick-up procedure; and renovating the Lower Division playground.

When asked to provide three words that come to mind that describe Academy at the Lakes, the word that appeared the most was community. Positive words like caring, welcoming, and character vastly outnumbered their less flattering counterparts like expensive or inconsistent (222-8).

We understand that this survey, like any poll or survey, is imperfect and only a snapshot of a moment in time. Yet, it is important feedback. Please know that we read every word, that we pay attention to the constructive criticism, and that we are deeply gratified by the very positive impressions you share.

Thank you for choosing Academy at the Lakes. Together we are building an outstanding school.




Mark Heller
Head of School

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Teacher Feature: Spanning the Decades


Academy at the Lakes students aren’t the only ones who stem from different backgrounds. Likewise, our Academy teachers also bring varying experiences and perspectives.

On Academy’s campus, we have teachers who began teaching in the 1970s and those who began teaching in 2014. We have teachers who had never dreamed of teaching and those who knew from childhood that they wanted to teach.

In spite of the differences, one thing remains constant – the love each has for education and teaching.

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Musicals Spanning the Ages



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Portrait of a Graduate: Steven Stillman ’02



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Student Showcase: Kite Runner Presentation



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Home Court Advantage: Kirk and Aileen Downing

Donor Profile

For years Kirk and Aileen Downing planned and saved so they could fulfill their dream to build a basketball court in the backyard of their Lutz home for their sons, Denzyl ’20 and Dwight ’21.

But when the time finally came to make their dream a reality, the Downings had second thoughts. Their hesitance wasn’t about whether they should build the basketball court, but rather, where they should build it.

In the end, the Downings decided to make a significant donation to Academy at the Lakes so that the court could be built on the McCormick Campus. The court, located in front of the Academy gymnasium, will be 60 feet by 85 feet with a sport court topping and will include six new basketball hoops.

“It was an idea Aileen and I came up with together,” said Kirk.

Athletic Director and Varsity Boys’ Basketball Coach Tom Haslam believes the impact of the Downings’ generosity will be enormous.

“The new all-purpose court will enhance every aspect of Academy’s physical education and athletic programs,” said Haslam. “The court will be used for everything from everyday P.E. classes and fitness training to after-school practices for competitive sports teams.”

The Downings’ journey at Academy began nine years ago when they enrolled Denzyl in Junior Kindergarten. The family’s connection to the Wildcats’ basketball program started years later, when Denzyl and Dwight attended Coach Haslam’s basketball summer camp.

donor profile

The first summer when Denzyl and Dwight attended Tom Haslam’s basketball camp

“It was the summer right before Tom started as the Athletic Director at Academy, and the only two kids enrolled in the camp were Denzyl and Dwight,” said Kirk. “They absolutely loved it. After that our boys would always do the after-school enrichment program and they continue to attend Coach Haslam’s basketball camp.”

As his boys got a little older, Kirk started thinking about the bigger picture.

“Two years ago I started coaching three local i9 basketball teams from ages 7 to 15,” he said. “I wanted to give Academy kids the opportunity to play in a team environment at an even younger age. Once I started coaching, one of the things that I noticed was that Academy’s outdoor court could use some improvement.”

“Another thing that solidified our decision to build the court at Academy instead of at our home was one weekend when I stopped by campus and I saw one of our students practicing by himself. It made me think that students like him will have regular access to an actual court.”

The Downings’ decision to make their donation to Academy was influenced by their strong belief that a student’s education should be about more than just academics.

“Both of my parents were high school teachers, and with my dad also being a high school coach, he instilled in me that sports along with academics really helps to build character,” said Kirk. “We really like the fact that (at Academy) the kids can be well-rounded by doing sports, fine arts, and getting a great education.”

By aligning their passions with philanthropy, the Downings will positively impact not just their own children but generations of Wildcats to come.

“We hope our boys learn from this that when you believe in something and have the opportunity to do good in the community that’s what you should do,” said Kirk.

Added Aileen: “We always wanted to have a basketball court at our home … and now we will.”