Making the Grade: International school caters to gifted students

Midtown International School faculty member Kascha Adeleye works with students in her class where enrollment is capped at 12. The school caters to the needs of gifted students.

Midtown International School faculty member Kascha Adeleye works with students in her class where enrollment is capped at 12. The school caters to the needs of gifted students.

Success is the reason the Midtown International School is no longer in Midtown. Its roots were planted there in 2013, when Ande Noktes started the school in a building on Amsterdam Walk. But the program designed to serve gifted and high-achieving students quickly attracted a sizeable following.

“We had about 47 students when we started, and the following year, we grew to about 100,” said Noktes. “We soon realized that our facility was not going to support us.”

In the fall of 2014, the school bought a 35,000-square foot building on five acres on Sheridan Road near Emory University. A year later, the new facility welcomed 150 students. Today, enrollment is hovering near 200, and the grade levels have grown along with the students. The first high school class will graduate in 2020.

“We batted around the idea of a name change but decided it was better to bring Midtown into our building,” said Noktes. “It’s not about being a geographic name; it’s about what we started 12 years ago.”

At first, Noktes’s plan was to offer a pre-K and elementary school centered on rigor, an approach that’s become a cornerstone of the school.

“I was looking for programs for my own kids when they were pre-school age and found gaps in language instruction and academic rigor,” she said. “I had always been in education and administration but had never started a business before. The mission was to launch a school to serve our most cognitively-able kids.”

To be admitted, each candidate must have been identified as gifted or score well on IQ tests. As students, they’re challenged with a rigorous curriculum that includes studying Mandarin, French and Spanish starting in kindergarten. In fifth grade, German and Hebrew are offered. Other courses are accelerated, with more content offered at each level.

“Instead of just looking at content, students learn how to think critically with it,” said Noktes. “And they’re making creative applications. All students take art and music twice a week; middle schoolers have three days of computer science so they can apply what they’re learning in creative ways. And by fifth grade, we start working to their strengths: Students can take electives in whatever their talent is – theater, photography, sculpture, microbiology.”

Class sizes are topped as 12, and Noktes says the student body won’t exceed 420, ensuring that studies can be tailored to individual interests and abilities. The size of the school was one of the main reasons Bree Pattillo of Morningside enrolled her two children three years ago. They’re now in the third and fifth grades.

“If children want to dive into space or multiplication, they don’t have to wait to learn,” said Pattillo, who also leads the school’s board. “They also have so many activities that range from basketball to robotics. And there’s so much excitement around learning. Our dinner conversations range from worms and Vietnam to the election. My daughter also does a sewing class and drama; my son plays chess. And they’re not doing traditional homework; they’re researching. Even though the school is growing into the 12th grade, the goal is to keep classes small and to attract teachers who are experts in their fields to keep that excitement going.”