The Early Years
On Feb. 11, 1958, an educator named Jane Tuggle chartered Pace Academy Inc., a for-profit corporation for the purpose of “training and educating children and operating a school and kindergarten.”
Tuggle had watched the events of the 1950s unfold. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case mandated the desegregation of public schools and set off a wave of white flight, leading to the founding of segregationist private schools, particularly in the Southeast. Although Atlanta was later dubbed “The City Too Busy to Hate,” it was not immune.
Pace Academy was incorporated on June 30, 1958, and, in September of that year, welcomed 150 students in kindergarten through seventh grade. The new school made its home in a building now known as the “Castle,” originally the private estate of the John Ogden family. Construction on the home was completed in 1931 using stone quarried on the property. After Ogden's death in 1948, his family moved out and the house stood vacant for several years, held in trust by the Citizens and Southern National Bank (C & S).
Mills B. Lane, then president of the C & S Bank and one of the prime movers behind Pace Academy’s establishment, helped the school acquire the Ogden property and its 20 acres of gardens, fields and hills. Lane and the Board of Trustees went on to fire Tuggle just months after the school’s founding and to establish Pace as a nonprofit organization. They quickly hired Frank D. Kaley as the school’s headmaster. Kaley, a visionary leader, created the school’s identity and motto, To have the courage to strive for excellence.
Renovations to the Ogden house took place from 1958 to 1962 to accommodate administrative offices and classrooms. An additional academic building was constructed in 1961, adding classrooms, a cafeteria and a library to the campus, and athletics fields were established. In 1964, Pace graduated its first class of 13 students. Boyd Gymnasium, dedicated in memory of Parents Club President William T. Boyd, was constructed in 1966.
While Pace’s founders envisioned an educational environment open to fresh ideas and debate, its early days as a segregationist white-flight school cannot be denied. Despite welcoming families of all faiths, Pace’s student body remained entirely white until 1966, when the Board voted unanimously to admit its first Black applicant, making Pace one of the first Atlanta independent schools to integrate.
The 1971-1972 school year was one of the most formative in Pace’s history. Students arrived to a campus transformed by several construction projects: additional classrooms and a new library had been added to the academic building, renamed Bridges Hall; a natatorium was erected behind Boyd Gymnasium; and new tennis courts sat at the rear of the campus. One hundred new students joined the student body that fall, the faculty expanded to accommodate the influx, and Pace launched its successful debate and service learning programs.
An Era of Growth
Kaley retired as headmaster in 1972 and George G. Kirkpatrick assumed leadership of the school. Although from its incorporation, Pace Academy was accredited by the Georgia Accreditation Committee, 1973 saw its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 1976, Pace Academy purchased the Randall family property adjacent to the school. First used to house Pace Academy’s fine arts programs, the Randall House offered the possibility of providing separate classroom facilities for the Upper and Lower Schools.
The Lower School classroom building was built as an addition to the Randall House in 1983. The school also constructed a playground adjacent to the Lower School and renovated the classrooms vacated by the Lower School program, creating improved science facilities, computer labs and an expanded library.
Pace Academy had long been known for its outstanding theater and arts programs, and the opening of the Fine Arts Center on Sept. 18, 1990, cemented the school’s status as a leader in the arts. The Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects named the building one of 10 outstanding architectural additions to the city, featuring it in its 1991 “Architecture in Atlanta” tours.
Peter Cobb became headmaster in 1994, the same year the Castle was officially named Kirkpatrick Hall, in honor of Headmaster Kirkpatrick, who had led Pace through two decades of extraordinary growth.
Cobb’s tenure as headmaster was brief and, in 1996, Michael A. Murphy, previously head of the Lower School, took over as interim head of school. He was officially named head of school in February 1997. During Murphy’s tenure, Pace embarked on a campaign to build a new athletics facility and Middle School building and, in early 2000, dedicated the multi-purpose Inman Student Activities Center. The facility included a student activity center with state-of-the-art athletic facilities, a new cafeteria, faculty offices and additional parking.
The 57,000-square-foot Garcia Family Middle School was completed in August 2004 and included 25 classrooms and labs, a 200-seat natatorium, faculty offices, an assembly hall, and art, music and computer facilities. For the first time, Pace was segmented into three divisions: the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools.
Pace in the New Millennium
In the fall of 2005, Pace Academy welcomed current Head of School Fred Assaf. Under Assaf’s leadership, the Board of Trustees embarked on an ambitious long-range and master campus plan that also outlined Pace’s commitment to remaining a small, family school and educating the whole child.
In 2007, Pace and the West Paces Ferry Neighborhood Association entered into an unprecedented agreement addressing the interests of both parties and aligned with Pace's desire to preserve its small, family feel while also expanding to accommodate moderate enrollment growth. As a part of the resulting plans, Pace realized its need for expanded athletics facilities and acquired two parcels, an eight-acre baseball/softball complex on Warren Road and a 23-acre tract on Riverview Road in Cobb County to accommodate the new football program and other athletics teams.
The Board also authorized SHINE, a capital campaign to build the new athletics facilities, refurbish and expand the Lower School, and enhance the school’s faculty endowment.
Under Assaf’s leadership, Pace has continued to grow. In 2009, the Board of Trustees authorized the creation of the Global Education program to provide students with a range of curriculum-based travel opportunities. In addition, the 2011-12 year marked the 40th anniversary of Pace’s successful debate and service learning programs.
In 2012, the school launched Aim High, a $32 million campaign to build a new Upper School. The campaign exceeded its goal, raising more than $35 million and allowing for the construction of the Arthur M. Blank Family Upper School as well as Walsh Field, a stadium and track at the school’s satellite Athletics Complex. Both facilities opened in August 2014.
Pace continued to fulfill its mission to create prepared, confident citizens of the world with the launch of the Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL) in 2014. The collaborative, cross-divisional program supports a well-rounded global education for every Pace graduate by exploring an annual, schoolwide global theme. Curricular, co-curricular and hands-on activities, a scholar-in-residence program, leadership fellowships, internships and study tours support education around the theme each year.
The 2018-2019 school year marked Pace’s 60th anniversary and, in early 2020, the school launched Accelerate Pace, its most ambitious capital campaign to date. The two-phased campaign called for the construction of the Kam Memar Lower School and updates to the Lower School classroom building, followed by the restoration and renovation of Pace’s historic Castle.
In 2020, the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism required the school’s response. Pace students closed out the 2019-2020 school year in virtual classrooms but successfully returned to in-person learning for the 2020-2021 year, and Pace published its Action Plan for Racial Equity in July 2020. The plan set out to “eradicate racism and its legacy, and to dismantle any racial hierarchies within [the] school community.”
The Kam Memar Lower School, a 36,500-square-foot facility, welcomed students in October 2021, bringing the first phase of the Accelerate Pace campaign to a close. At nearly three times the square footage of the Randall House, the Kam Memar Lower School houses science, STEAM and design classes; an expanded Academic Resource Center; music and strings programs; a gymnasium; meeting and gathering spaces; and administrative offices. Lower School students also enjoy “The World’s Greatest Playground,” a renovated library and an expanded cafeteria.
Today, Pace Academy is a thriving institution serving 1,115 students in Pre-First through 12th grade. Pace’s graduates—prepared, confident citizens of the world—continue to strive for excellence and to fulfill the school’s mission, in Atlanta, across the country and around the globe.