A new Catholic grade school is set to open up in Nolensville next fall, and the line of applicants is already growing extensive as families try to claim spots for their children.
St. Michael Academy is set to become the first regional Catholic school in Williamson County, spurred by the rapid growth of the area’s local Catholic community, which has already necessitated the creation of a new parish, Mother Teresa Church. Development on the $60 million school began two years ago, with classes set to begin in August 2024.
“There was a need in Williamson County for a Catholic school in the Nolensville area. The population has increased exponentially,” said Shana Druffner, the school’s inaugural principal. “The projections from the 2021 Meitler study were spot-on: the area needs a Catholic school. We already have parents driving 40 minutes to the nearest Catholic school. The desire for authentic Catholic education is clearly there.”
The portal for applications for parents with pre-kindergarten 3 through fifth-grade students opened on Friday, Sept. 15, at midnight. Within its first six hours, St. Michael received 31 applicants. That number rose to 190 applicants within its first six days. While applications have not yet been processed, the kindergarten classes with 40 total seats have already hit capacity. Older grades are filling quickly. Middle school students will be admitted beginning in the 2025-26 school year, and administrators are expecting all available classes to be completely filled by next fall.
The demand has already spurred the school to open up additional tours to allow parents to see the facilities while they are under construction and meet with administrators. Matthew Staley, director of admissions and communications, was only initially offering one tour of the building per week. Those tour spots have already filled up through October, and have necessitated bumping tours up to two or three per week.
“We originally opened up weekly tours every Monday for the entire fall, but those filled up so quickly that we actually added a second tour on Mondays,” Staley explained. “They’re 10 people each, so I’m meeting 20 people every week who are on fire for Catholic education. I’ve had so many people reach out for full tours that I’m opening up a third tour some Mondays.”
Building a new school from scratch is not easy, particularly on an accelerated construction timeline. However, it is a dream job from the perspective of an administrator. Druffner says her staff has been given a clean slate to build a school and community from the ground up, both literally and figuratively, and they are excited by what the community is shaping up to become.
“It’s an exciting proposition. You help in the design of the school, the programs, select the furniture, technology, curriculum, and textbooks, and hire every person in the building,” Druffner said. “I’ll be interviewing every single family as part of the admissions process as well. This is a tremendous gift in shaping the culture of the school.
“Our approach to curriculum draws from both classical and modern elements within a Catholic framework. We’ll have a classical approach to education with a focus on pen to paper, embracing authentic literacy – reading, writing, and public speaking – and reading the classics,” she explained. “Math fluency is fundamental and will be a strong focus. Technology, including coding, robotics, and graphic design, will be taught in the Discovery and Innovation Lab. In addition, our students will have lots of outdoor learning, Spanish, music, art, (physical education), library, and financial literacy, among other things.”
“The span of elementary education is an interesting proposition. … This is a huge portion of a child’s life. Parents expect and students deserve academic excellence,” Druffner added. “They want authentic schools where children can deepen their faith and encounter Christ, growing in love and service of the Church and one another. The Church calls us to be better than our non-sectarian counterparts. We are called to bring children into the fullness of truth, which is Jesus Christ Himself.”
Construction on the new building is currently set to be done by the end of November, with many of its furnishings delivered in December so that the school is ready for December open houses. The facility is expected to be dedicated at the beginning of Advent, with Mother Theresa Church beginning Sunday Masses in the cafeteria on Dec. 3. At its peak, the school is expected to host 500 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students with two classes per grade to preserve a close-knit community.
“We will be forming a unique St. Michael’s community, rooted in the charism of our great patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel,” Druffner said. “We’ll be the first regional school in the diocese at the elementary level, and we’ll be pulling from five different parishes without schools. It is a great opportunity for students to have a complete formation in an authentically Catholic, academically rigorous, state-of-the art learning environment.”
“The mission of St. Michael Academy is to form saints and scholars for the greater glory of God,” Staley added. “The Academy will become the new standard for Catholic education.”
Tuition for Catholic families is set between $10,800-$11,800 per year. The tuition is one fee and includes lunch five days per week. On top of that, the feeder parishes are subsidizing families to keep the cost below the national average cost of education per student, which is roughly $13,501 as of 2020.
St. Michael will also be participating in the state Education Savings Account program for families that live in Davidson County so that more children can have access to a truly excellent Catholic education.
For more information about St. Michael Academy, visit stmichaeltn.org.