Sankofa Montessori Offers Students and Families A Culturally Innovative Approach To Great Public Education

This fall, families will have another innovative public school option for students in Forest Park, Ga. Sankofa Montessori will become one of Metro Atlanta’s first K-6 tuition-free public charter Montessori schools. Sankofa Montessori utilizes the Montessori model of learning to provide a culturally responsive, child and family-centered Montessori education that empowers every child with the knowledge, skills and agency to lead a life of purpose. 

“The meaning of Sankofa is to honor the past to make way for the future,” said Sankofa Montessori, Founder and Executive Director, Sarah Harvey. “Sankofa symbolizes our philosophy of perpetual reflection and growth at the center of our work with students, families and communities.” 

Sankofa Montessori strategically places students in multi-age groupings to build a growth mindset and monitor their individual progress. The multi-age groupings encourage each student’s natural development pace, provide leadership opportunities, create a diverse environment and promote a growth mindset. Each guide stays with the same group of students for all three years to understand each student on a deeper level. 

The newly renovated 5,000-square-foot campus anticipates an enrollment of 125 students in its pilot year. Each classroom is designed according to the following Montessori principles to maximize learning for each child:

  • Freedom of choice in learning 
  • A structured and orderly learning environment
  • Beauty in the learning environment
  • Learning environment designed to bring in nature 
  • Community building
  • Learning materials across ages and stages of development

“The Montessori approach is playful and rigorous; it’s personalized for each child without relying on screens; it is highly structured and student-centered at the same time,” said Annie Frazer, executive director of Montessori Partnerships for Georgia, a nonprofit focused on supporting and expanding public Montessori programs. “Best of all, it helps children feel connected to each other’s success and learn how to think, how to disagree respectfully and change their minds when that’s warranted, how to step up and take responsibility. Montessori graduates know they matter to their communities, and they have the skills to make a difference. It has been a privilege to support Sankofa Montessori’s development, and I know their graduates will be changemakers.”

Sankofa’s Montessori-trained instructional staff are guides, content experts and masters of Montessori teaching and learning practices. Each guide also engages in ongoing professional development to ensure they are incorporating new methods to help students thrive. 

Sankofa Montessori’s launch was supported through redefinED atlanta’s school start-up support, including start-up funding and technical assistance. State-authorized charter schools in Georgia receive several thousand dollars less than peer traditional and in-district charter schools even when serving a similar student population and geographic community. 

Since its founding, redefinED atlanta has filled part of that revenue gap and contributed to the growth, sustainability, and influence of the charter school ecosystem in Atlanta by addressing financial and operational barriers that challenged new schools from coming online and launching successfully. Over an average of 5 years of support, redefinED atlanta invests approximately $1.25M in each public charter school that meets its standard of great K-12 education for Atlanta students and communities. 

To learn more about Sankofa Montessori, visit

About Sankofa Montessori:

Sankofa Montessori is Metro Atlanta’s first State Charter School Commission-approved K-6 tuition-free public Montessori school. Sankofa Montessori utilizes the Montessori model of learning to provide a culturally responsive, child and family-centered Montessori education that empowers every child with the knowledge, skills and agency to lead a life of purpose. To learn more about Sankofa Montessori, visit

About redefinED atlanta:

redefinED atlanta is a growing collective of civic leaders and philanthropists passionate about and invested in transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has the opportunity to attend a great public school. For more information on redefinED atlanta, please visit

redefinED statement on Tapestry Charter School

A message from redefinED atlanta:

By voting to deny Tapestry Public Charter School’s petition to replicate their educational model via a 6-12 campus in Atlanta Public Schools, the Atlanta Board of Education is choosing to ignore the widely demonstrated need for more inclusive, individualized learning environments for neurodivergent students. It is deeply concerning to see the Board turn down a school that would have served so many students with special needs, especially considering the 650 “intent to enroll” signatures from eligible students and families.

The Board has framed their unanimous decision to deny Tapestry’s petition as a delay, not a final denial. But after far too many delays, and extensive evidence that the school would serve a diverse population, hundreds of families have now been publicly denied a great option when their kids need it. The Board made the wrong decision and for the sake of our kids, they should reconsider it quickly.

A School to Celebrate

Founder Ebony Payne Brown shares the inspiring journey of opening PEACE Academy.

On Aug. 7, 2023, PEACE Academy welcomed students into the building for the first time. The only state charter-approved public school in Georgia with a culturally inclusive curriculum, this milestone marks the culmination of an enormous, inspired and coordinated effort on behalf of students.

Founder Ebony Payne Brown describes some of the pivotal moments, starting from the beginning when she worked with the Georgia Charter Schools Association’s Charter Incubator program, a competitive year-long endeavor that recruits and trains leaders to start public charter schools in the state. “I didn’t have funding, and I had a full-time job,” she says. “We had to be resourceful, working with community members and volunteers.”  

One of the biggest tasks was securing the place where their students would thrive. Many grants explicitly state that they cannot be used for funding facilities, so the assistance from redefineED atlanta was instrumental for understanding the commercial real estate market, finding an old warehouse to renovate and hiring architectural and construction teams. redefinED atlanta believes developing new schools and investing in district initiatives will transform Atlanta into a city where every child attends a great public school. 

An Environment that Increases Learning Capacity

After successfully navigating through the many complexities, PEACE Academy is now delivering on its vision. A daily cultural studies class focuses on intentional cultural immersion that helps students appreciate their heritage and the world as a rich and beautiful place with diverse and beautiful people. Monthly real-world questions offer opportunities for exploration and problem-solving. Related field experiences give students exposure to community organizations, educational pathways and potential careers. The curriculum also includes twenty-first-century skills like coding. In addition, reading and literacy underpin everything, along with opportunities for family involvement. 

“So many Black and brown students have a hard time finding a school in their area that is high performing and that accepts their cultural identity. If you remove your identity as you step into school, it’s a weight, and it lowers your brain capacity,” says Ms. Payne Brown. “We want students to show up as they are, celebrating everyone who comes into the building, with their capacity to learn enlarged.” 

The school’s three educational pillars include being culturally responsive, inquiry-based, and community-centered. “Many traditional schools are based on memorizing versus having field experiences and learning how to develop your own solutions,” Ms. Payne Brown says. “We want our students to build critical thinking skills and enter fields and careers that emphasize those skills.”

Bringing a Dream to Fruition

Ms. Payne Brown emphasizes how necessary early funding and support were to achieving this dream when the school was nothing but an idea. “I 100% could not have done this without funding from organizations like redefinED atlanta,” she says. “To receive a grant for planning, a grant for the opening year, all before data or results, believing in me and my leadership made the journey possible.” Having opportunities for professional development and attending conferences also made a huge difference. 

Early support helped expand and fine-tune the vision through visits to schools around the globe with High Tech High and the Georgia Charter Schools Association incubator program. “In Washington, D.C., I visited a school that had the most collective style of learning I’ve ever seen, with a morning meeting and students leading so much of the work,” Ms. Payne Brown says. “And there was an inquiry-based model in San Diego where the level of autonomy and creativity blew my mind and changed my image of what students could do in terms of projects.”

She also mentions the critical role of the incubator cohort. “It’s extremely helpful to have multiple partners along on this journey who are also opening schools, to have regular meetings, share what we are doing and bounce ideas off of each other.” 

Now that the school is open, what’s next? Ms. Payne Brown notes that while they are now fully staffed, her position includes both principal and executive director, overseeing the curriculum and fundraising. She would like to see those responsibilities divided into two positions. “We also want to get to a point where we have so much interest that we have to consider opening another school to provide even more families with an innovative public school option like ours,” she says. “But shorter-term, we want every child to finish this year feeling they have grown and have a place that loves them and cares about their educational experience.”