By Katie Fallon

The Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School had more than usual to celebrate for the first day of school on Aug. 29.

At the end of the day, the Sandy Springs private school not only commemorated a successful first day for all students, but also the official naming of the Lower School in honor of retired Associate Head of School Dorothy Sullivan.

Sullivan ended her tenure this summer after 30 years of service. On Aug. 24, the signage signifying the new name of the Lower School went up on the building and the following Wednesday, the school held a dedication and ribbon-cutting to celebrate the change.

Sullivan said she was completely surprised in May when the school’s Board of Trustees first made the announcement that the Lower School would be named in her honor. Sullivan has a particular tie to the younger students because she began her career with HIES and a substitute kindergarten teacher and eventually became the Lower School’s principal.

“I was in total disbelief,” Sullivan said about first learning of the honor. “Of everything I’ve aspired for and tried to do, never ever did I consider something like this.”

However, based upon the turnout during the dedication as well as the feelings from her peers, Sullivan should not have been surprised that the brick building that houses pre-first through fifth grades now bears her name.

Dave Stockert, president of the HIES board, said the decision was no a hard one to make.

“Dorothy has been a fixture around here for 30 years,” Stockert said. “When you think about Holy Innocents’, you think about caring, love, compassion, joy, wonder and exuberance and those are all words you’d use to describe her. If someone personifies what Holy Innocents’ is about, it would be Dorothy. Because of her history with the Lower School, it’s just a perfect tribute.”

Stockert said the Holy Innocents’ Lower School has never had any special designation, but now proudly bears Sullivan name. He said the building itself got the actual lettering just in time for the first day of school.

The act of renaming the school, Stockert said, is a tribute to Sullivan’s multi-decade dedication to Holy Innocents’. Much like a business, Stockert said HIES was lucky to have such a dedicated employee for such a long time and to see her students becomes HIES parents and teachers themselves.

“Any kind of organization, but especially a school, is going to be special because of the people who are part of it,” Stockert said. “To have someone like Dorothy, who is so caring, so committed, so special and so dedicated, be there for 30 years and to provide that consistency…that’s what makes it a unique place.”

Sullivan said it never even occurred to her to move on from Holy Innocents’ in all the years she spent there. She became associate head of school in 2000, but decided to retire after the 2006-2007 school year to bring in some “new blood.”

“Who could leave this place,” Sullivan said. “I’m already having withdrawal terribly. Once I came out here and started meeting people and getting to know people, I never wanted to leave. It’s such a positive environment.”

In fact, even the new blood that took over Sullivan’s role under headmaster Kirk Duncan is not new to the HIES community.

Rick Betts, the current associate head of school, said he has long worked alongside Sullivan. In fact, Betts seems to be following Sullivan’s path at HIES. He took over as Lower School principal when she was promoted and is now in her most recent position.

“It’s a tremendous honor and it’s very humbling to follow in the footsteps of someone like Dorothy Sullivan,” Betts said. “She has meant so much to this school. This school really is what it is because of her.”

With grandchildren Annie and Sam currently attending HIES, Sullivan will not be completely removed from the school community. She said she also hopes to be involved in projects and in other ways in the coming years, but is not rushing to do so.

“Right now, I think it’s so important for the new people to have full reign over everything they need to and to test the waters,” Sullivan said. “So far it has been wonderful. They’ve done great.”

Duncan also announced at the dedication that the fund created in Sullivan’s name to help offset the tuition costs for children of Holy Innocents’ faculty has raised more than $100,000.