Leadership Team


Executive Director for Spiritual Formation and MissionsPatrick Barrett, MA
Executive Director –
Spiritual Formation and Missions

Since 2011, Mr. Patrick Barrett has served in various leadership roles at The First Academy, including Director of Strategic Initiatives, Director of Athletics, and Assistant Head of School. Mr. Barrett currently serves as the Executive Director for Spiritual Formation and Missions and oversees the Spiritual Formation components of The First Academy.

Mr. Barrett also served as the first Executive Director of Neighborhood Charter Schools (NCS), a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 to mobilize and equip churches to serve at-risk students by hosting public charter schools. More than 400 at-risk students are currently being served by NCS partner churches.

Mr. Barrett earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Missions from Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, followed by a Master of Arts degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Central Florida. After beginning his career as a Middle School Language Arts teacher, Mr. Barrett 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 who attend The First Academy, Lydia (Lower School), Elianna (The First Hope), and Samuel (Preschool). He has served students and children of all ages in countries across the world including Kenya, Tanzania, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Brazil. Mr. Barrett believes The First Academy is a special place because its commitment to excellence in education is fueled by a passion to advance Christ’s Kingdom.


Chief Financial OfficerJerry Chambers, BCP-E, BS
Chief Financial Officer

As the Chief Financial Officer at The First Academy, Mr. Jerry Chambers oversees the non-academic departments, which include Finance, Human Resources, Operations / Facilities, Technology, and Admissions. Mr. Chambers also serves as a mentor and adjunct consultant to other financial officers around the nation and is on the teaching faculty with Independent School Management’s Business and Operations Academy. Since joining The First Academy in 2009, Mr. Chambers has helped the school experience a tremendous increase in growth and financial stability. He has been instrumental in the development of the International Student Program, The Virtual Academy, The Royals Store, Upper School 1 to 1 iPad Program, The Preschool, The First Hope, the Larson Pavilion at Payne Stewart Athletic Complex, the Alumni Commons area, and the The Middle School Building. In 2015, he was honored as one of the top CFO’s in Central Florida by The Orlando Business Journal.

Prior to joining The First Academy, Mr. Chambers worked in various senior level positions 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.


Executive DirectorMarci Chavalas, MAT
Executive Director –
Leadership & Professional Development

As the Executive Director for Leadership and Professional Development, Marci Chavalas has over seventeen years of experience serving staff, children, and families. Mrs. Chavalas began her journey in education after receiving the Ronald McDonald House African American Visionaries and Inspirational Leaders scholarship as well as the African American Educators Scholarship to attend Duke University in 2000. At Duke, she worked with at-risk elementary students and supervised the tutoring staff in the America Reads program. She also served as a teaching assistant for Educational Psychology and participated in educational, neurological, and developmental psychology research. Along with earning her BA in psychology, Mrs. Chavalas received a minor in cultural anthropology and a certificate in human development . During her experiences she became interested in fostering connectedness between the diverse individuals she served. Mrs. Chavalas’ undergraduate work led to her being selected as a Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fellow in 2004.

After receiving her BA, Mrs. Chavalas continued her studies at Brown University, where she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching. It was there that she developed a passion for teaching outside of the box. She worked in a number of schools, but was fascinated by the unique methods used to reach students with language learning differences.

In 2006, she brought those innovative ideas to The First Academy Lower School, where she served as a second grade teacher, team leader, instructional coach, and tutor. In 2009, Mrs. Chavalas was selected as the Christian Educator of the Year. Throughout the course of her career, Mrs. Chavalas has served over 200 kindergarten to twelfth grade families. Her greatest joys an educator was watching each of her students grow and develop.

Mrs. Chavalas and her husband Anthony have been married for over seven years and are the proud parents of William Owen Chavalas, who attends The First Academy Preschool. Marci Chavalas feels that TFA has been her home away from home since she first arrived in Florida. She is thrilled to provide the encouragement, direction, and resources to assist others in maximizing their full, God-given potential while here at TFA.


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. Years earlier, Mr. Cohen spent seven years at TFA as a student, graduating with TFA’s Class of 2008. After graduation, Mr. Cohen moved up to Birmingham, Alabama where he received his Bachelor’s of Science in Sports Administration from Samford University.

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 most importantly continue to develop their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

His hobbies include; playing golf, attending college football games (especially Florida Gator games with family), spending time at New Smyrna Beach, and traveling with friends and family.

Mr. Cohen and his staff enjoy watching the development of a student-athlete into a Christian leader and the process that entails. He believes that the students, families, faculty, and staff make TFA one of the best Christ-Centered schools in America. Mr. Cohen enjoys getting a chance to build relationships with and serve families at The First Academy through the avenue of athletics daily.


Sarah-DonovanSarah Donovan, MEd, MEd
Director of Admissions

As the former Director of The Extended Educational Programs, Mrs. Sarah Donovan served as the leader of The First Academy Preschool, The Classical School (hybrid homeschool program), and The First Hope (special needs program). Mrs. Donovan was raised in the rolling hills of northern Pennsylvania, and attended Penn State University where she received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Kindergarten Education. She continued her studies of Early Childhood Education at the University Chichester in West Sussex, England. Mrs. Donovan earned her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Central Florida. She then went on to obtain a Masters in Educational Leadership and Supervision from Stetson University. Mrs. Donovan’s endorsements include Exceptional Student Education and English for Speakers of Other Languages.

Mrs. Donovan previously served in the Orange County Public School district for ten years as an assistant principal, curriculum and instructional coach, and classroom teacher. She was honored as one of the district’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ and also received the ‘You Make a Difference Award’.

Mrs. Donovan has a passion for sparking a love of learning in students. She is honored to serve with a team who shares the same joy and dedication to serving children in Christ. Sarah says, “I am very excited for the growing opportunities ahead in our extended educational programs!”

Mrs. Donovan has a heart for writing and is currently publishing her first children’s book. Married for six years, Mrs. Donovan and her husband Hart are proud parents of their daughter, Elle, who attends The First Academy Preschool. They enjoy spending time together boating on the lake with King, their chocolate lab.


Director of Information TechnologyMatt Eggert, MS
Director of Technology & IT Innovation

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 and personalized learning.

Serving the school, he has led the Apple Distinguished Program initiative for Upper School. In order to offer student-led support services for the school, he designed a comprehensive training program for a select group of students and equipped them to serve the teachers, staff, parents, and classmates with technology services. These students make up the Genius Bar at TFA; they embrace the learning ecosystem, can earn certification in Apple Hardware Support, and are learning real-world applicable job skills.

His contributions to the advancement of education through the use of technology have earned him the honored title of Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE). As a member of the ADE community, he will continue to be an ambassador and advocate of new technologies for education. Additionally, he will have access and opportunities to collaborate with colleagues worldwide to turn fresh, new ideas into educational realities at TFA.

Mr. Eggert and his wife Angel are proud parents of Ava Grace, who loves being a TFA Royal. Ava Grace will be in thAe 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 Operations & FacilitiesJuan Felix

Director of Operations & Facilities

Since 2005, Mr. Juan Felix has served at The First Academy. Prior to his start at TFA, Mr. Felix worked at First Baptist Orlando in the Engineering Department. During his time at First Baptist Orlando, Mr. Felix took leave to join the Army as an infantry medic. He served for 3 years before returning to First Baptist Orlando and continued in the Army Reserves for an additional 5 years. When he joined the staff at TFA, he started as grounds personnel, and has worked his way up over the years to the Director of Operations and Facilities. Mr. Felix has assisted in multiple building projects both on First Baptist campus, as well as TFA. Overall, Mr. Felix has 25 years of experience working in facility maintenance and operations.

Born in Mexico, Mr. Felix immigrated at the age of 9 with his mother and 2 sisters. Mr. Felix and his wife, Yanick, have 3 daughters, all of whom attend The First Academy. Jayda and Madison are in the Lower School, and Yanick is at The First Academy Preschool. Their beloved 4 month old son Jon Paul passed away July 18, 2017. Over his 12 years of service at The First Academy, Mr. Felix has thoroughly enjoyed watching how much the school has grown, and is honored to have the opportunity to serve in an environment that enriches the lives of his children, as well as all of the other students here at TFA.


Assistant Head of SchoolShayne Grove, PhD
Assistant Head of School –
Teaching & Learning

Dr. Shayne Grove arrived at The First Academy with eighteen years in public education. She began her career as a high school teacher and then spent three years as a Middle School Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction. Her next ten years as an Elementary School 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 Business/Marketing from The University of Central Florida.

After completing her Masters degree in School Leadership, she earned her PhD in Educational Administration at Capella University. Dr. Grove is an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University and Indiana Wesleyan University teaching brain based learning, curriculum and instruction, classroom management, school culture, data and school improvement, and various educational leadership courses.

Dr. Grove and her husband, Scott, have been married for twenty years and are the proud parents of two TFA students: Cassidy and Dakoda. Scott is the head varsity baseball coach and teaches Lower School PE at TFA. Dr. Grove says, “Being able to share the TFA mission and vision with prospective families is an absolute joy!” She hopes to see you soon!


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.”


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. In this role, she facilitated enrichment classes for academically talented and gifted students with an emphasis on critical thinking and technology. Mrs. Jackson also coordinated accommodation plans for students with learning differences. In addition, she assisted with TFA’s initial application for accreditation with the Florida Council of Independent Schools as well as the Florida Kindergarten Council in 2012 and remains involved with the accreditation process at TFA. Before joining The First Academy, she served 13 years in Florida public schools. Her roles in both Alachua and Orange counties included the following: special education teacher, elementary education teacher, curriculum resource teacher, and reading coach. She draws from all of her previous experience in her current role as the Lower School principal.

Mrs. Jackson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Furman University as well as a Master of Education in Special Education from the University of Georgia. She holds endorsements in Gifted, Reading, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Mrs. Jackson firmly believes that all students can learn and succeed in a loving environment with high expectations. She also values the importance that Christian education plays in partnership with church and home. Being in the Lower School classrooms on a regular basis is a priority for Mrs. Jackson and plays a critical role in her leadership.

In 2014, TFA faculty and families selected Mrs. Jackson as the Christian Educator of the Year. Her experience as a classroom teacher at TFA gives her a unique insight and passion for serving the students, teachers, and families in Lower School.

Mrs. Jackson and her husband Jay have been married for almost 20 years and are blessed to have two daughters. Both Sarah and Lauren have attended The First Academy since Kindergarten.


Director of College GuidanceJoyce Kwak
, BA
Director of College Guidance

Mrs. Kwak joined The First Academy in 2007 as a College Advisor. Prior to arriving at The First Academy, she served as an Admissions Counselor for Rollins College and recruited students from Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Central Florida. Mrs. Kwak also held responsibilities in increasing minority student enrollment for the years she served at the college. Upon her arrival at The First Academy, Mrs. Kwak played a key role in redesigning the College Guidance process for the students and families by providing tools to personalize the post-secondary education opportunities. Through her leadership, College Guidance department has improved by increasing the applications to Top 30 colleges in the nation, providing Financial Aid workshops, organizing college fairs, providing group and individual college guidance sessions, and providing additional college advising program to the International student body. Mrs. Kwak has served 9 years as one of the committee head members for the Central Florida Consortium of Private School Counselors to collaborate with other private high schools’ Guidance departments.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Mrs. Kwak immigrated to the United States during elementary school and remains fluent in both Korean and English. While growing up in Central Florida and graduating from Rollins College with Bachelor of Arts in Communications, she has and is currently actively serving at her home church. Mrs. Kwak and her husband have a daughter Evelyn who is currently in the 1st grade and Ewan who is 2 years old. She has served on mission teams to Belize, China, Dominican Republic, and North Korea in the past and enjoys serving as the leader of her House Church with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys offering application workshops to high school students in the local community and spending time with her children. Mrs. Kwak considers The First Academy a place where students and professionals can grow closer to God through Christ-centered education.


Upper School PrincipalBrian Rose, MEA
Assistant Head of School –

Born and raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Mr. 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 Columbia, South Carolina. He began his educational career in 1985 at Jupiter Christian School in south Florida then served 5 years at the Whitefield Academy in Louisville, KY.

In July 2005, Mr. Rose became Assistant Head of School at The First Academy. After 10 years of years serving in that role, he transitioned to Upper School Principal. He was blessed to work with the students and faculty in that capacity until he was asked to return to serve as Assistant Head of School for Advancement. In this position, Mr. Rose oversees the Office of Institutional Advancement. This office is committed to securing the needed resources through the generosity of our families to train the next generation of Christian leaders.

He thanks his wife, Debra, for the everyday support she has given him during their thirty-two years of marriage; together, they are proud parents of two TFA Alumni – Michael, who is completing his graduate degree in Business Administration at Mississippi College, and Lyndee, who is completing her senior year at Florida State University.

Mr. Rose enjoys meeting families and developing lasting relationships and believes that the students, families, and faculty and staff make TFA the finest Christian college preparatory school in America.


Fine Arts DirectorGordon Snyder
, BS
Fine Arts Director

After earning his music degree from Liberty University, Mr. Gordon J. Snyder began his career as the Assistant Minister of Music for Hickory Grove Baptist Church’s North Campus in Charlotte, NC. As a result of his time there, he honed skills related to the development of Fine Arts programming. Following Hickory Grove, he worked as a merchandiser for Integrity Media, Inc and began offering his services as a church music consultant and speaker.

During the last decade, Mr. Snyder served as a public high school band director as well as a adjunct music and worship professor. As a result of his efforts in furthering arts education, Mr. Snyder was featured in several music educator magazines and was a speaker at regional and national music conferences. Additionally, he was recognized in 2014 as the National Music Teacher of the Year presented by Music & Arts.

Beyond a solid musical background, Mr. Snyder believes in giving back to the community with the aim of providing students professional opportunities to display their talents. The overall objective is to break down the walls of education to show students they can use their gifts anywhere. As a result, students develop a life long love and passion for music and are able to take life lessons learned into any career field.

Mr. Snyder is currently working on his Masters degree in Music with a concentration in Worship which he hopes to complete buy the end of next year. Eventually, he would like to work on a doctorate related to the effects of music on a person mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.


Upper School Principal Garry SullivanGarry Sullivan
, MEd
Upper & Middle 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.

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 advanced a bold spiritual formation agenda, experienced outstanding enrollment growth, and has witnessed remarkable scholastic achievements. Multiple capital campaigns led to a major renovations/expansion of the Lower School, the building of a new Upper School and Middle School, the opening of the Tennis Center, a renovation of the Boyd-Moline Library, a Black Box Theatre, and a new $10.5 million Field House/Gymnasium Facility. The First Academy families have generously pledged over $42 million to fund these initiatives.

Dr. Whitaker has written on a variety of topics, including school culture, Christian living, generous giving, and Biblical worldview issues. He recently published a book entitled In God We Trust: Five Anchor Points for Turbulent Times. His past and present activities include serving on the ACSI Executive Board, FHSAA Board of Directors, FCIS Board of Directors, ABHE Board of Directors, and 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.

After completing his Bachelor degree in 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).

  • Plan of Salvation

    Admit: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Pray: Lord, I admit that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.

    Believe: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

    Call: For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    Pray: Lord, I believe that Jesus died and shed His blood for my sins. I believe this in my heart and not just my head. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

    Pray: Lord, I call upon You to save me from my sins. I confess and repent of my sins. I know that Your Son, Jesus paid my debt on the cross—a debt I could never pay despite all my good works—and I thankfully accept Your gift of eternal life in Heaven that His death makes possible.

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