My journey to creating this school has been a long and winding one, but so worthwhile. As a child in the Florida public education system, I was lucky enough to experience education in a vastly different way than most of my school mates. I was allowed to attend a unique school where I could explore knowledge in a way that was meaningful to me, and it completely changed my life.
A lifelong pursuit to give my children a school experience as cool as the one that I had followed. As such, our family has tried pretty much every educational experience that the North Georgia Mountains has to offer. My children have attended private Christian schools and international boarding schools. They've been unschooled, road schooled and more. After years of searching for a school like the one from my childhood, I finally stumbled upon Acton Academy and its philosophy of the Hero's Journey. The idea that every child is a genius with a calling that will change the world, spoke directly to my heart. I was inspired by the network of entrepreneurs, educators, and parents who were creating micro-schools where children love to learn.
So, I set out on a mission to bring an Acton Academy to life in Blairsville. Our school is not bound by traditional standards or high-stakes tests. Instead, we focus on fostering critical thinking and allowing individual expression. We believe that education is a shared journey and we aim to help children develop a lifelong love of learning.
At Acton Academy Blairsville, students are encouraged to be the heroes of their own stories. They are given the freedom to explore knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them, just like I was able to do as a child. Our goal is to prepare these young people for the future, and to equip them with the skills that they need to lead and change the world.
I am incredibly proud of what we are building at Acton Academy Blairsville. Every day, I see children thriving in a learning environment that is tailored to their individual needs. They are engaged, they are inspired, and they are happy! They also have an incredibly strong bond with nature because they are allowed to spend a great deal of time playing and learning outdoors.
I invite you to reach out as you explore Acton Academy Blairsville.
You will find an inspirational place where education is reimagined and childhood is fully realized.
McKenzie Payne, Founder
Acton Academy Blairsville
McKenzie Payne is the Founder and Head of School at Acton Academy Blairsville. With a diverse professional background spanning law and entrepreneurship, McKenzie is also a certified LEGO educator, guiding multiple teams to world championships. Additionally, she serves as the literary agent for her great grandmother, Wylly Folk St. John.
As a committed lifelong learner, McKenzie earned degrees from Young Harris College, the University of North Georgia, and Texas A&M University-School of Law.
McKenzie is married to her high school sweetheart, Cory Payne. Together, they are proud parents to Mattox, Ellianna, and Beckham. Inspired by their children, she founded Acton Academy Blairsville with a mission to unlock young people's innate gifts and talents. Her ultimate hero is her mother, Rebecca St. John, whose unconditional love and resilient spirit left an indelible mark on McKenzie's life.
Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses.
As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America.
Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world.
Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science.
After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City.
Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.
Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.
Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."