JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Twenty years ago, Findley Oaks Elementary School was something of a pioneer, opening in 1994 in what was then mostly woods and Highway 141. Things have changed quite a bit since then.
The school is in the center of suburban Johns Creek, which is a city now. One thing has not changed over the years. That is the enduring sense of family that the school, the children and the parents share at Findley Oaks.
In that time, the school has known only three principals – Sadie Etris, Steve Curry and now Lacey Andrews. And at least eight of “The Originals” who opened the school are still there.
Sondra Anderson is one of “The Originals,” and remembers opening the school two decades ago.
“It was exciting. Everything was all brand-new. I remember we had to put the tables together in time for the students,” Anderson said.
Obviously the teachers took to heart “hands-on learning.”
“I love how people come up to me and tell me Findley Oaks is the best school around. And it is because we make it so. I can tell when I see the children getting off the bus. They just come running off the bus. They can’t wait to get inside,” Anderson said.
Jill Ruffin was the only school secretary Findley Oaks ever had until just last year. She remembered the first truck that pulled up to the school. She recalled everyone was awaiting supplies, materials, books, desks and chairs.
“Back then, funding was tight, and we didn’t have a lot of things. So we were waiting as the first truck from the warehouse rolled up. We were so excited to see the first things that would fill the bare walls. And they raised up the back door to the truck,” said Ruffin. “And it was a piano. That’s all.
“It was truly the last thing we expected to see sent to a school that needed everything.”
Another “Original,” Pat Martin, remembered one of the things that thrilled the kindergarten students was wandering around the playground looking for deer tracks. Those are few and far between these days.
When asked what made the school such a special place for parents and students, the answer almost always came back: the first principal, Sadie Etris (now retired).
“Sadie Etris was what made this school so special,” Martin. “She would always say if it’s good for the children, we’ll do it. She always had time to listen to anybody. She was always involved in their education and a proponent of education.”
Another one of “The Originals,” Claudette McDaniel, said Etris would give teachers the opportunity to teach “outside the box” – that is, to be creative with their teaching.
“She would tell young teachers to just teach inside the box. And once they were comfortable inside the box teaching, Ms. Etris would encourage you to be more creative – get outside the box,” McDaniel said.
“We as teachers liked her for showing us that trust.”
And as one teacher put it, “We didn’t teach to the [standardized] tests back then. We just taught them, and made them learners and excited about learning.”
Diane Clark, a fourth-grade teacher and another 20-year Findley veteran, said the school operates at a “fantastic level of learning.”
“Parents know that academics here are No. 1. And there is a special sense here among the teachers, parents and students. They call it Friendly Oaks,” Clark said. “Students are always prepared, and there is a lot of parent involvement.”
Many parents echoed those thoughts about Etris. She set the tone for the school, and the culture Findley created persists to this day. Some 200 or more parents, faculty, ex-faculty and graduates of Findley came back to celebrate the school’s 20 years of excellence.
One of those who came back to celebrate was former Findley Oaks Principal Steve Curry. He said he had the good fortune to “intern” at Findley Oaks under Etris as an assistant principal for two years. He then served as principal for 12 years.
“I was a great follower of Ms. Etris. Our philosophies about education merged perfectly,” Curry said.
What struck Curry was how the parents, teachers and administrators always worked together with one purpose: to serve the children.
“When I was here, I had great parents, great kids and a great staff. I got really lucky,” Curry said.