GAC’s story began when the Churches of Christ in Atlanta had attempted to start a school in 1948 and again in 1953, but their efforts had failed. “Their dream lived on into the 1960s, which was a turbulent time for education in America. Members of the Atlanta churches wanted a school where, in addition to a standard school program, God would be honored. Their desire was to have a school where the Bible would be taught by Christian teachers in a Christian environment, where prayer could occur within the school, and a student body that was racially integrated.
Resources were few, but men and women across Georgia could see God’s hand. Those early dreamers believed that faith and learning could be united as one, to create a generation of young men and women of character, for Atlanta, and for God’s church.
There were monumental moments in the 1960s, including the naming of Jesse Long as GAC’s founding President and many early fundraising campaigns. The land on a dirt road (currently Indian Trail Road) consisted of two farms totaling 175 acres, which was purchased for $1,100 per acre, is where GAC still resides today. The construction of the original twin buildings—one for classes and one for a gym—was completed in 1968. This is where the GAC High School stands today. That very first day of school in August of 1968, GAC opened its doors with 150 students from 7th–11th grade. The early motto—”Quality Education in a Christian Environment”—had finally begun to come to life.
The 1970s saw American culture in flux while a very young Christian school began to build. GAC’s first 16 seniors graduated in 1970. Enrollment grew gradually from 300 to 740. And successes began coming GAC Spartans’ way, first with a theater state championship, followed by boys and girls basketball championships—all in the 70s. That winning spirit spread through literary, debate, chorus, baseball, and more. The spirit of God captured hearts and minds, with moving chapels and Chorus performances on Sunday nights at dozens of area churches each year. GAC grew in facilities too with its first full-size gymnasium built by the physical labor of volunteer GAC families; it was later named in honor of GAC’s first principal and legendary basketball coach, Jackie Bradford. Tidwell Hall was converted to classroom space for the growing enrollment.
In 1972, sixth grade was added, and GAC continued to add a lower grade each year. No one from the early days can forget the famous Quonset huts, which were added as additional classrooms. Fundraising continued through three more campaigns, the first magazine sale (1972), and the first LACE Frog Hollow Festival (1977).
As the 1980s began, the youthful days of GAC transitioned to a new stage, gaining wisdom and credibility in new ways. GAC was accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, recognizing the growing quality of the school. The school expanded to include all grades, K through 12, on the Norcross campus. The campus saw new strength as well, with the Campus Church building made available to GAC for chapel and performances. Liles Media Center became the school’s first spacious library. And the Elementary and Middle School students entered their own new building together, in what is today’s home of GAC Middle School. GAC’s maturing outlook was well underway. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Education named GAC a National School of Excellence.
Many new students and teachers joined GAC during this decade, growing enrollment to about 1000 as Gwinnett County experienced tremendous growth. GAC grew stronger academically. When the school started, as many as 95 percent of the students were from Church of Christ families. GAC intended to be a lighthouse Christian school that would serve as a model for others. Enrollment began to grow from families of all Christian faiths. GAC’s commitment to quality and to God remained at the very center for teachers, the Board, and the GAC community.
GAC reached her 25th birthday in the 1990s, and with growing purpose, her vision was expanding. Each year saw new Honors classes and addition of Advancement Placement opportunities for students. GAC’s spiritual heart took a first step into global missions in the 90s, something that until then was unknown in K–12 Christian schools nationally. The first mission trip was to the City of Children, Ensenda, Mexico. In 1994, the current mission statement was adopted: “To grow each student as Jesus did, in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”
Spartan football made its debut, from a fledgling JV program in 1991 to a state contender by the decade’s end. New facilities dotted the GAC campus from Fields Hall to the first Administration building (now the Art & Design Center), to today’s Spartan Stadium. And in 1999, GAC saw its second U.S. Department of Education recognition, with National Blue Ribbon School Award honors in Washington D.C., and enrollment surpassed 1,400 students for the first time. In the late 90s, the first double digit fundraising campaign was launched which allowed for the first building dedicated to the arts, the Sara D. Williams Fine Arts Center (named for a GAC grandparent and supporter by her family).
The year 1998 saw the first change in GAC’s president’s role, with the Board selecting GAC’s own David Fincher to succeed Jesse Long.
GAC entered the 21st century with a fresh vision for Atlanta’s children and unlimited dreams. New visions for learning and programs led to a new Master Plan for what GAC should look like by the end of the decade. God’s supporters and dreamers stepped forward to help. Through the significant support of many, more than $50 million was raised to begin to build out that plan, and sustain the school for the long-term future.
By 2010, the campus changed with the addition of the Jim and Becky Combee Elementary Complex and the Student Family Center (recently renamed Fincher Student-Family Center), Freeman Aquatic Center, Shanil Naik Athletic Training Center, and many others.
The additional space allowed for enrollment to grow to match, making GAC one of the largest Christian schools in the nation. Of even more importance, the spiritual life of GAC elevated again. Missions expanded from its infancy in the 1990s, approaching 20 mission trips annually by the late 2000s. Annual student retreats led to scores of students committing their lives to Christ. Programs shined from academics to sports to the arts, and GAC served students in ways like never before. Increasingly, GAC became a national example of what a superb and faithful Christian school could be.
The world continued its rapid change in the 2010s, and GAC set the pace for others. The Board, teachers, and administrators were all committed to Jesus; this only deepened through the years. GAC was ready to transform methods to meet students right where they were. Engagement became vital, as students took on new, sizable leadership and responsibility for shaping and planning chapels. Faculty-led missions grew again, approaching 25 domestic and international ministries annually. This shaped hundreds of GAC students, teachers, and parents—and the thousands whom they served. Christian service across metro Atlanta became an expectation, rather than just encouragement. Through service, GAC students became prepared for Christian leadership ahead.
The best in academics just kept advancing. In 2010, GAC became one of the leading schools nationally to adopt one-to-one technology, training teachers for new ways of teaching. The school dreamed forward, adopting recent research in the best practices of learning methods. The High School and Middle School buildings were completely redesigned based on research that school design can influence both innovative teaching practices and student outcomes. The arts exploded on campus with GAC’s School of Dance, the Art and Design Center, after-school private music lessons, visual arts, choirs, orchestras, and bands. GAC reached new heights of recognition and shaped hundreds of students daily. The long-awaited Performing Arts Center opened its doors in time for the 50th anniversary, making room for nearly 1000 in GAC’s most beautiful gathering hall ever.
GAC invested heavily in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM). Nasmyth Environmental Center, named after GAC’s third Chairman of the Board Fernando Nasmyth, became a clarion call for schools on how to engage students in STEAM studies, from building rain forests to releasing thousands of GAC-grown trout in the Chattahoochee River. GAC Floating classrooms at Lake Lanier made environmental studies come to life. Fields Science Hall was completely redesigned and expanded in size and tools for STEAM learning and robotics.
The school was honored with the uncommon Apple Distinguished School for eight consecutive years. Educators from across Atlanta and across the country came to study, borrow ideas, and improve their learning and faith practices. GAC was a blessing not only to her students and families, but to thousands more.
In the 50th year, GAC came full circle and won and succeeded where it began: there were state theater victories and basketball championships—just like those early years. The little school that was just a dream in the 60s today serves with heart, vigor, and success that some thought impossible long ago. But nothing is impossible for God. And to His glory for 50 years, he has made us “more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ. In 2018, Dr. Scott Harsh became GAC’s third president, taking the reins from Dr. David Fincher and moving GAC into continued greatness in its next 50 years.