Leadership Team

Head of SchoolSteve Whitaker, PhD
Head of School

Dr. Steve D. Whitaker has served as the Head of School at The First Academy since July 2003. During his tenure, the school has experienced record growth in enrollment and organizational advancement. He has also successfully undertaken two capital campaigns, which led to a new Upper School facility, Tennis Center, Lower School building expansion, Library renovation, Athletic Field House and Pavilion, and most recently a new Middle School facility. The First Academy families have generously pledged over $20 million to fund these initiatives.

Passionate about the cultivation of Christian intellect, Dr. Whitaker led a local effort bringing together Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza for what was called “The Great Faith Debate.” This event was held at the University of Central Florida with nearly 5,000 in attendance. Similarly, Dr. Whitaker led an initiative to integrate the family-based The Truth Project into a K-12 academic curriculum.

Dr. Whitaker’s background includes twenty years of experience as an administrator, coach, teacher, and adjunct professor. In addition to a diverse public speaking career, Dr. Whitaker has written on a variety of topics, including school culture, Christian living, generous giving, and Biblical worldview issues. His past and present activities include serving on the ACSI Executive Board, FHSAA Board of Directors, and as a Charter Member for Council for Educational Standards and Accountability. In 2010, Dr. Whitaker founded Neighborhood Charter School, seeking to support urban churches in establishing charter schools for severely disadvantaged students. He also serves as a Pastor for Ministry Development at the 14,000 member First Baptist Church of Orlando.

After completing his Bachelor degree at South Florida, Dr. Whitaker received a Master of Education from MidAmerica Nazarene University and a Master of Arts degree in Education from the University of Louisville. He also earned his PhD from the University of Louisville in Higher Education Administration. He is married to Tricia and has three marvelous children (Amanda, Stephen, and Caleb).


Chief Financial OfficerJerry Chambers, BS
Chief Financial Officer

As the CFO at The First Academy, Mr. Jerry Chambers oversees the non-academic departments, which include Finance, Human Resources, Athletics, Operations / Facilities, Technology, and Admissions. Prior to joining The First Academy, Mr. Chambers worked in investment banking, retail transportation, and logistics. He received his Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Finance from The Ohio State University. Mr. Chambers is married to his wife Karen and has two grown children, Shannon and Kacey.

Mr. Chambers will tell you it’s an honor and a privilege to serve here at The First Academy. He sees God’s work done everyday assisting as the students grow their faith in Christ, earn a solid education, and become equipped with the tools to do great things.


Upper School PrincipalBrian Rose, MEA
Assistant Head of School –
Advancement & Spiritual Formation

Born and raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Brian Rose attended Hobe Sound Bible College and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Social Studies. He went on to earn a Master of Education Administration from Columbia International University in South Carolina.

In July 2005, Mr. Rose became Assistant Head of School at The First Academy. He thanks his wife, Debra, for the everyday support she has given him during their thirty-year marriage; together, they are proud parents of two TFA Alumni – Michael, a student at Mississippi College, and Lyndee, a student at Florida State University.

Mr. Rose believes that the students, family, and faculty make TFA the finest Christian college preparatory school in Orlando.


Assistant Head of SchoolPatrick Barrett, MA
Assistant Head of School –
Scholastic Excellence

Since 2011, Mr. Patrick Barrett has served in various leadership roles at The First Academy, including Director of Strategic Initiatives and Director of Athletics. Mr. Barrett currently serves as the Assistant Head of School for Scholastic Excellence and oversees all academic divisions, extended educational programs, Fine Arts, and Athletics. Mr. Barrett earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, followed by a Master of Arts degree from the University of Central Florida. He has served as a Christian educator and administrator for more than 10 years.

Mr. Barrett is husband to Melanie and daddy to three wonderful children, Lydia, Elianna, and Samuel. He loves serving students and believes The First Academy is a special place because its commitment to excellence is fueled by a passion to advance Christ’s Kingdom.


Director of Spiritual FormationDr. Kyle Barrett, PhD
Director of Spiritual Formation

Dr. Kyle Barrett comes to TFA from the business world having spent the last 11 years working at Cellular Sales, Verizon’s largest premium retailer, in their Louisville, KY office. While in Louisville he also attended Southern Seminary earning both a Masters of Divinity (2005) and a PhD (2012) in New Testament Studies. In addition to his experiences in business and academics Dr. Barrett has served in a number of roles at the local church level including teaching and missions. Originally from the Tampa area Dr. Barrett attended the University of Florida earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance.

Dr. Barrett enjoys watching college sports (baseball and football in particular) and spending time with his wife, Ashley, and their 6 children – Emma, Jane, Nathan, Luke, Seth, and Margaret. He is most passionate about seeing our graduates, regardless of career choice, seek to please the Lord Jesus by loving the church and loving their neighbor.


Athletic DirectorWill Cohen, BS
Athletic Director

After serving The First Academy for 3 years as the Assistant Director of Athletics, Mr. Will Cohen moved into the position of Athletic Director. He spent seven years at TFA as a student, graduating with TFA’s Class of 2008. After graduation, Mr. Cohen received his Bachelor’s of Science in Sports Administration from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

From Mr. Cohen’s experience as a student and staff member; the teachers, coaches, and administrators have had and continue to have an immeasurable impact on his life. He is blessed to partner with elite coaches and staff to encourage our student athletes to not only advance their athletic abilities, but to hold to high academic standards and continue to develop their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mr. Cohen believes that the students, families, faculty, and staff make TFA one of the best Christ-Centered schools in America.


Director of Human Resources and OperationsTim DeBoom, MBA
Director of Human Resources & Operations

Mr. Tim DeBoom has worked at The First Academy since 2003. Prior to joining TFA, he worked as an external auditor at KPMG, LLP where he served clients including the Make a Wish Foundation, Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation, and Darden Restaurants. As the Business Administrator, Mr. DeBoom leads the Finance, Human Resources, and Operation/Facilities Teams. While on campus, he enjoys seeing Lisa, his wife of 14 years who serves as The First Academy’s Library Specialist, as well as his two daughters, Faith and Hope, who both attend The First Academy’s Lower School.

Mr. DeBoom received his Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Northwest Missouri State University. He continued his studies and received his Master of Business Administration from Rollins College and later became a Certified Public Accountant. He is thankful to be at a school that provides a solid college-preparatory education within the blanket of a Christ-centered environment.


Sarah-DonovanSarah Donovan, MEd, MEd
Director of The Extended Educational Programs

Mrs. Donovan serves as the leader of The Classical School, The First Hope, and the Preschool of The First Academy. Mrs. Donovan received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Kindergarten Education from Penn State University. Her studies continued in Early Childhood Education at the University Chichester in England. Mrs. Donovan holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Central Florida and Masters in Educational Leadership and Supervision from Stetson University.

Mrs. Donovan has served as an assistant principal, curriculum and instructional coach, and classroom teacher. She received the ‘Teacher of the Year’ and the ‘You Make a Difference’ award. She is honored to serve with a team who is joyful and dedicated to serving students in Christ. “I am very excited for the growing opportunities in our extended educational programs!” Mrs. Donovan and her husband Hart are proud parents of their daughter, Elle, who attends the Preschool.


Director of Information TechnologyMatt Eggert, MEd
Director of Technology and Innovation for Technology

Mr. Matt Eggert has served in education for over 15 years and is passionate about creating new and engaging educational opportunities for students through the use of innovative technology. Mr. Eggert believes that K-12 education should equip students, as digital natives, through the use of technology in the classroom. As a former classroom teacher, he also strives to create an ecosystem for teachers that is intuitive, boundless, and always available in order to shift the focus from technology to student centered learning.
Mr. Eggert and his wife Angel are proud parents of Ava Grace, who loves being a TFA Royal. Ava Grace will be in the TFA graduating class of 2027 and has enjoyed all of the fun learning opportunities she’s had since starting her journey here in 2013. As a leader and parent, Mr. Eggert is excited to be a part of the future and direction that TFA is headed as a pioneer in Christian education.


Director of AdmissionsShayne Grove, PhD
Director of Admissions, International Students, and Marketing

Dr. Shayne Grove arrived at The First Academy with eighteen years in public education. She began her career as a high school teacher and enjoyed the past ten years as a Principal. In her role as a public school administrator, she earned the Middle School Administrator of the Year, PTA Principal of the Year, Elementary Principal of the Year, and the Minnie Woodruff Leadership Award. Dr. Grove received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from The University of Central Florida. In 2011, she earned her PhD in Educational Administration. Dr. Grove is an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University and Indiana Wesleyan University where she teaches various school administration courses.

She and her husband, Scott, have been married for nineteen years and are the proud parents of two TFA students. Dr. Grove says, “Being able to share the TFA mission and vision with prospective families is an absolute joy!”


Leighann Harris, Director of FinanceLeighann Harris
, BS
Director of Finance

With 17 years of public accounting under her belt, Mrs. Harris joined the business office at The First Academy in 2012. She began her career as an auditor with the international accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP where she specialized in banking, manufacturing, and publicly-held companies. She then worked in local and regional public accounting firms where she specialized in not-for-profit and government accounting, auditing and tax compliance. Mrs. Harris earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting with minor in Computer Science from Oral Roberts University and is a certified public accountant in California and Maryland.

Mrs. Harris is married to her husband, Lt. Colonel Scott Harris, and is proud to serve beside him during his 28 years on active duty with the United States Marine Corp. After serving in many different duty stations across the United States, they are happy to be back in Florida where they were born and raised. She has three children, two TFA graduates who are continuing their studies in college and one current TFA upper school student. Mrs. Harris says, “Being a part of The First Academy has been a tremendous blessing to me and my family and I look forward continuing to serve in advancing the mission here at TFA.”


Luci HigginsLuci Higgins
, EdD
Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Middle School Principal

Dr. Luci Higgins is a dynamic, innovative, passionate leader and educator who motivates her team to continually find better ways to do what is best for the learners they serve.

Dr. Higgins has served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction (K4-12) since July 2007 and Middle School Principal since 2013. During her tenure, she has lead The First Academy’s faculty and staff through initial accreditation with the Florida Council of Independent Schools, the Florida Kindergarten Council, the Southern Association of Independent Schools, AdvancEd: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the Council for Educational Standards and Accountability, and the Association of Christian Schools International.

Dr. Higgins has also successfully initiated the adoption and implementation of brain-friendly instructional curriculum design and authentic integration of technology within the classroom environment. She has systematically increased the Advanced Placement course offerings from seven in 2006-2007 to twenty-three in 2013-2014. She continually analyzes systems and incorporates research-based methods to ensure that curriculum and instruction of TFA is robust, relevant, rigorous, and student-centered. She developed and continues to oversee TFA’s Professional Development Plan for faculty and staff, and has intentionally focused her energies on attaining increased faculty effectiveness in both the art and science of educating students and preparing them for success in college and beyond.

Under her direction, Library Media Center programming has continually striven to be more student-friendly and technologically advanced. During the summer of 2010, Dr. Higgins was provided the opportunity to restructure the Learning Center, a program designed specifically to support the learning needs of students that are highly academically talented and students with documented learning needs. The self-funded program was re-tooled and received a new name: Learning-ie (Learning-intentionally enhanced). Learning-ie was the initial iPad learning lab at The First Academy.

With a deep passion for learning, improving, and enhancing education for all students, Dr. Higgins serves on Accreditation Review Teams for the following accrediting organizations: FCIS, FKC, SAIS, AdvancED-SACS, and ACSI. She further supports Florida independent schools and their families through her role of Board Member on the Florida Kindergarten Council.

In the past, Dr. Higgins has served students, families, and educational staff at The First Academy in the roles of Director of Learning-ie, Lower School Assistant Principal, Transitional Kindergarten instructor, Middle School Performing Arts instructor, and Upper School Language Arts instructor. Dr. Higgins has taught at Nova Southeastern University as an adjunct instructor since 1997. Prior to working at TFA, Dr. Higgins worked in the public schools system and was awarded the Wakulla County Teacher of the Year and the Distinguished Educator of Florida Recipient from the University of Florida. She spent her early professional years in the field of Psychology, where she served clients with varying development, sensory, and emotional disabilities.

Dr. Higgins’ hobbies include reading detective novels on the seashore, running far distances, attending Broadway musicals, staying curious, and seeking to laugh heartily with family and friends. She is married to Michael and has two terrific teenage daughters: Charli and Bailey.

Dr. Higgins received her Doctor of Education from Nova Southeastern University, her Master of Science in Emotional Disturbances/Learning Disabilities from the Florida State University, and her Bachelor of Science in Emotional Disturbances/Learning Disabilities and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the Florida State University.


Lower School Principal Jennifer JacksonJennifer Jackson
, MEd
Lower School Principal

Mrs. Jennifer Jackson joined The First Academy in 2010 and as the Learning-i.e. Coordinator. She also assisted with TFA’s initial application for accreditation with the Florida Council of Independent Schools as well as the Florida Kindergarten Council in 2012. Before The First Academy, she served 13 years in Florida public schools in special education, curriculum, and reading.

Mrs. Jackson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education as well as a Master of Education in Special Education. She holds endorsements in Gifted Reading, and ESOL. Mrs. Jackson firmly believes that all students can learn and succeed in a loving environment with high expectations and values the importance that Christian education plays in partnership with church and home. In 2014, TFA Faculty and families selected Mrs. Jackson as the Christian Educator of the Year.

Mrs. Jackson and her husband Jay are blessed to have two daughters who both attend The First Academy in the Lower School.


Upper School Principal Garry SullivanGarry Sullivan
, MEd
Upper School Principal

Mr. Sullivan is excited to begin as Upper School Principal at The First Academy for the 2016-2017 school year. Most recently, he served as the K-12 Associate Director, after serving as the Dean of Upper School Students, Dean of Academics, as well as the Assistant Head of Upper School at The Pine School, a college preparatory school in Hobe Sound, FL. Prior to serving at The Pine School, Mr. Sullivan was the IT Curriculum Coordinator and Technology Instructor at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, Georgia. After being recruited from South Africa on a tennis scholarship, he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in Business Management from Columbus State University in 2002 and more recently a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida.

As K-12 Associate Director at The Pine School, he oversaw accreditation, professional development, curriculum development, faculty evaluation, student leadership and discipline and all other academic initiatives. In addition, he provided oversight to the school’s 140-acre campus, endowment, and annual operating budget under the direction of the Head of School.

Mr. Sullivan’s hobbies include hunting, braaiing (traditional South African woodfire BBQ), watching/playing rugby and tennis and trying as many new spots to eat with the family as possible. After collegiate tennis, Mr. Sullivan started playing rugby again in 2003 and was selected to the USA National 7s squad in 2007.

Mr. Sullivan and his wife, April, have three children, all of whom will be attending The First Academy. Eva will be entering 7th grade, Caleb in 1st grade, and Eliza’Kim in preschool. He is passionate about Christian education and looks forward to serving our Upper School parents, students, and faculty in the TFA environment that continually seeks to promote excellence.