By Katie Fallon
From a part-time teaching assistant to associate head of school and everything in between, Dorothy Sullivan has witnessed a lot of change in her time at the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.
The grandmother of five, however, will soon experience an even bigger change of scenery when she retires from the Sandy Springs private school after 30 years of service.
Currently the associate head of school under headmaster Kirk Duncan, Sullivan started at the school after filling in for a neighbor of hers, an HIES kindergarten teacher who had experienced a death in the family.
“I came over for her and then they offered me a job as a half-time assistant,” Sullivan said. “That was for fifth grade.”
After teaching at HIES for many years, Sullivan then became Lower School principal and eventually came into her current role in 2000. Education, however, was not Sullivan’s original career path.
Sullivan attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, after growing up in Asheville. While at UNC, though, Sullivan’s course load did not reflect that of a future educator.
“I never took any education classes at all,” Sullivan said.
It was not until Sullivan moved to Jacksonville, Fl., an area in need of part-time teachers at the time, that she thought about teaching. She said she started teaching sixth grade in Jacksonville because she thought it would be a good part-time job.
After continuing her own education at Jacksonville University and teaching in Florida for a year and a half, Sullivan said she moved to Atlanta and began her family, which includes husband Jack and two sons. After coming to HIES to help out her neighbor, Sullivan then attended Georgia State University and Oglethorpe University to get her Master’s degree and teaching certification.
After 30 years at HIES, Sullivan said she feels it is time to end her career on a high note.
“It was a hard decision,” Sullivan said. “After 30 years, I feel like it’s probably a healthy thing for the school to go with someone with new thoughts, new ideas, new blood. I love this place, but I feel like someone else can do it now.”
Ushering in the new is what Sullivan has been a part of for the last three decades.
When she arrived at HIES, Sullivan said the school was thought of more as an outreach of the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church rather than a bonafide institution of learning. At that time, the school taught children from the age of three until eighth grade. It was not until 1989 that Holy Innocents’ was able to go to the county to purchase a closed-down school adjacent to the original HIES campus.
“It was almost like fate because we were right next door,” Sullivan said.
After additional land was acquired and the high school was built, Sullivan said one of the biggest changes she has witnessed was seeing the campus increase from 12 to 15 acres to more than 40. Sullivan said being a part of that expansion was an honor for her.
“All the buildings that have been built since 1990, I’ve been a part of,” Sullivan said. “It’s fun to meet with builders and architects and all that.”
Sullivan noted that during all that expansion, the school tried to keep its neighbors informed as best it could. She said the school wants to move in a direction that not only keeps its families happy, but also the residential areas immediately surrounding HIES.
“Right now, I think we’re in really good shape as far as enjoying the neighbors and having them appreciate what we’re doing,” Sullivan commented. “Now we’re feeling like [the school] is a great place.”
Between her commitment to HIES students and the school at large, Sullivan’s legacy will not be lost on Holy Innocents’ generations to come.
In a move that completely surprised the HIES veteran, the school’s Board of Trustees announced at a May 8 party in Sullivan’s honor that the Holy Innocents’ Lower School will be named after her. At the party, Head of School Kirk Duncan compared Sullivan’s retirement to “Jackie Kennedy leaving the White House.”
“I’ve said it many times,” Duncan said. “Dorothy embodies the spirit of Holy Innocents’ as much or as more than any person who’s ever walked through the doors here as I can imagine.”
Similarly, Lower School principal Rick Betts said Sullivan’s support for the HIES community has been unyielding.
“Dorothy Sullivan has provided Holy Innocents’ with a consistency of heart and soul,” Betts said. “She’s been the torchbearer, if you will, of the school philosophy and has embodied what the school stands for and believes in at every position she has been in at the school.”
With all of her family living locally, except for her mother who lives in western North Carolina, Sullivan said she is looking forward to spending more time with her loved ones.
“We have five grandchildren so that could take up some time,” Sullivan said. “I have thought of possibly taking some classes or something along those lines.”
While she has activities she is looking forward to, Sullivan said there are definitely things she will miss at Holy Innocents’. An experience unique to few educators is being able to watch many students grow up from age three up through high school graduation. Sullivan said she will miss watching her students grow up before her very eyes.
Similarly, she said she’ll have to get used to not being around so many different people every day.
“I think what I’ll miss the most is the warm, loving community,” Sullivan said. “Every day, I come in contact with hundreds, if not a thousand, people. That’s going to be hard to adjust to when I’ve had it for 30 years.”