By Fran Memberg
Stefanie Solmson enrolled in Davis Academy as a second-grader in 1993. In those days, the young school was housed in temporary quarters on Abernathy Road. In 1996, Solmson and her classmates and teachers moved into the school’s current location on Roberts Drive.
This year, the 23-year-old College of Charleston graduate is teaching third grade at the Davis Academy.
She’s the first alumna hired as a teacher by the Jewish day school. School board member Jan Epstein sees Solmson’s hiring as a sign of the school’s longevity and achievement.
“This speaks to the success of the school,” said Epstein, one of the school’s founders. “This is what we should be striving for. When we can attract our own alumni to take on teaching as a career, we have reached success of the highest order.”
It’s a landmark other private and parochial schools have reached as they have matured.
Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, for instance, reports it employs 30 staff members and teachers who are former students. Riverwood High School in Sandy Springs has two graduates on the faculty.
The Galloway School in Buckhead also has hired former students. “Galloway alumni have always felt a deep commitment to our founder Elliott Galloway’s educational philosophy, and we have had a number of graduates return to campus as educators over the years,” said Erin Crews, communications coordinator of the school where four alumni are on staff.
At Pace Academy in Buckhead, three teachers and three staff members are alumni. “We are thrilled when alumni come back,” said Head of School Fred Assaf. “It is wonderful to see the traditions and heritage of our school upheld when alumni appreciate what Pace did for them and want to give back to a school they loved.”
The private Lovett School has one or two alumni on its staff each year, said Kimberly Blass, Lovett’s communications. “People like Lovett and they love to come back,” Blass said.
Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Epstein School, Jewish day schools located in Sandy Springs, report that a number of alumni have returned as teachers. Currently, two former students teach at GHA, and Epstein’s director of annual giving and one teacher are alumni.
The reading specialist at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs is a former student and in recent years, two other alumni were on the faculty.
At the Davis Academy, board member Epstein takes pride in the growth and development of the school since its inception in 1992 with a combined enrollment of 20 kindergarten and first-grade students. The enrollment this year is 650.
By the time Solmson was in middle school at Davis, she was thinking about becoming a teacher. As a North Springs High School senior, she served as a teacher’s aide at Dunwoody Springs Elementary School.
“I had so much fun. I loved it. I taught a little bit in small groups. I thought, ‘I could do this every day,’” said Solmson, the daughter of Jim and Marcy Solmson of Sandy Springs.
Solmson said a middle school math teacher at the Davis Academy inspired her to think about teaching as a career.
That teacher, Jamie Kudlats, is now Davis’s middle school principal. When Solmson graduated from college in 2009, Kudlats encouraged her to apply as a substitute teacher. She quickly became a favored Davis sub.
Kudlats said Solmson was hired for a full-time position based on her merits and not “because of the novelty that she’s the first alum.”
Solmson’s own third-grade teacher, Carolyn Berk, now Davis’s director of admissions, sees an opportunity for Solmson’s students as well.
“Life is a journey,” said Berk. “ Having a student return as a teacher is a great example of that. Stefanie brings her dedication and her passion to the next generation of leaders.”