Cornerstone Christian Academy strives for a balance of rigor and love

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

At Cornerstone Christian Academy – this year’s AJC’s top workplace in the small business category – parents and staff say they’ve found the right combination of rigor and love.

Headmaster Colin Creel says that’s been achievable because Cornerstone is a relatively small, independent, and affordable K-8 Christian school.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

With an enrollment of about 430 and class sizes of 14 to 18, Cornerstone teachers have the ability to know students as individuals and as God’s unique creations, Creel said.

“Teachers know students likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, and what motivates them to learn,” he said.

Parents – including Tasha and Kevin Hilson – say the school has met and exceeded their expectations for students’ academic, social, and spiritual development from Day 1.

Kevin Hilson said his daughter is greeted each school day with a smiling face and a ‘We are so happy you are here today’.“

“That not only sets the tone for a great day of learning but also serves as a reminder that she is important, loved, and special,” he said. “What more could a parent ask for?”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Cornerstone Christian Academy was founded in 2001 and is in its 20th year.

As an independent school, it is more agile and able to respond to students’ needs in a timely manner, said Creel, headmaster since 2011.

“Change doesn’t take months or years because the highest level of decision-makers are just down the hall and know each student,” he said.

For instance, when schools were ordered last spring to take their classes virtual due to the pandemic, Cornerstone was quick to ramp up its technology, buying 100 new iPads for students in kindergarten through third grade and making sure students in the higher grades had access to Chromebooks, Creel said. The popular classroom app Seesaw was purchased so students in the lower school could independently complete and turn in their work, he said.

Zoom played a big part in the school’s virtual service projects and field trips, with 3rd- and 4th-grade students coming together with scientists from all over the U.S. to discuss a variety of subjects, including dental research.

“Buildings and programs are helpful tools,” Creel said. “But staff members who love Christ, love kids, and love their content areas make Cornerstone a truly special place.”

Parents and staff also have pitched in to try to make learning in this environment as positive as possible. For instance, during the 2020 spring lockdown, parents and the administrative team paired up to deliver cinnamon rolls, a fun t-shirt, and a note to every staff member. The note said: “Thanks for rising to the occasion.”

Last fall, when students were back in class, lunch was provided weekly for teachers and staff from local restaurants on what became known as “Thankful Thursdays.”

Cornerstone’s teachers have an average of 14 years of experience.

Creel said a high percentage of the staff has children or grandchildren who are attending or have graduated from Cornerstone.

“The staff is fully invested in creating a wonderful environment, not only for others’ children but also their own,” he said.

A veteran educator said she’s worked at top-rated public and private schools and considers her colleagues at Cornerstone all to be “highly professional, mission-oriented, and result-driven.”

“We work as one team and, at every turn, we ask ourselves what is best for our students,” she wrote in comments to the AJC. “I know from experience that this is unique in a school environment.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Box 1

The Leadership file: Colin Creel, headmaster

Age: 46

Hired by the school in 2011

Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Master’s degree in Communications, Wake Forest University

Prior work: Assistant Director of Admissions, Wake Forest University; teacher, coach, and administrator Wesleyan School

Box 2

Three ways in which the pandemic changed the school in the short- or long-term:

* One- to two-minute video messages were developed for families who were feeling overwhelmed with information. Families greatly appreciated the succinct nuggets of information, which the school will try to do more of, when appropriate, moving forward.

* The school spent a great deal of time and resources perfecting a system of synchronous learning (more than one method at once) that worked well for parents/students. This won’t be offered unilaterally in the future but may be used to help families through challenging times.

* Students and staff are much more comfortable in the digital world.

-- Headmaster Colin Creel