Leadership Team


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

As the Senior 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 are the proud parents of William Owen Chavalas, who attends The First Academy Lower School. 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.


Sarah-DonovanSarah Donovan, MEd, MEd
Senior Director –
Advancement & Parent Relations

As the former Director of The Extended Educational Programs and Admissions Director, 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), and Admissions Department. More recently Mrs. Donovan worked as the Director of Global Programming at ASU Prep, where she cultivated global relationships and business partnerships. 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. Mrs. Donovan and her husband Hart are proud parents of their daughter, Elle, who attends at The First Academy Lower School. They enjoy spending time together boating on the lake with King, their chocolate lab.


Campus PastorVictor Flores, MA
Campus Pastor

Victor Flores serves as the Campus Pastor at The First Academy. He joined our team in 2018. Prior to arriving at The First Academy, Victor had the great joy of serving as a Student Pastor for 40 years. Twenty six of those years he served at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida where he also had the richly rewarding experience of serving not only the students and families, but also his own three children. This season, and the significance of it, birthed a vision to write a book for parents desiring to make the most of their parenting experience. In 2016 Victor and Esther co-authored the book Raise to Release: A Missional Mandate for Parents.Victor’s heart for parents is that they would be able to echo the words of 3 John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

After receiving his BA from Miami Christian College in Miami Florida, Victor went on to attend the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth Texas where he received his Master of Arts in Religious Education Degree, while also serving as a Student Pastor in Texas. In April of 2016, Victor was the recipient of the Student Leadership University Lifetime Achievement Award.

Victor and his wife Esther have been married for over 35 years and have raised and released three children: Melanie, Tyler, and Julianna. At the present time five delightful grandchildren add much laughter to their home.


Assistant Head of SchoolShayne Grove, PhD
Middle & Upper School Principal

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 over 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
Senior Director –
Finance & Business Development

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 over 20 years and are blessed to have two daughters. Both Sarah and Lauren have attended The First Academy since Kindergarten.


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. 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.

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 major renovations and expansion of the Lower School, the building of a new Upper 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 Schools, 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.

  • Attend Our Admissions Open House on November 5