Drs. Smethurst and Burdette at Ben Franklin Academy's 20th Anniversary luncheon.
Why did Drs. Smethurst and Burdette choose to honor Benjamin Franklin in the school's name?

Many people have asked us over the years why we named the school after Benjamin Franklin.  We saw Ben Franklin as symbolic of meaningful work and of the American Dream. Franklin personified the love of learning, but learning, as functional to life, not just as an ornament. He also was symbolic of innovation, science, and community.

Ben Franklin Academy History

In addition to their teaching experience at the Emory Reading Center and Catch-Up School,

Dr. Smethurst and Dr. Burdette both had taught at Lovett School in Atlanta, as well as in college and at several other independent schools in Georgia and Texas. They helped to create the Emory/Oxford Prep Program, the Emory Medical School's Minority MCAT Program, and the Medical School's Board Review Program. Interestingly, besides their work with older students, both Dr. Burdette and Dr. Smethurst had preschool teaching experience as well, and both had been involved with Montessori schools. Both founders have significant experience with school success, helping students avoid or recover from school failure and helping excellent students achieve success more efficiently. 

Dr. Smethurst and Dr. Burdette had realized that there was an unmet need in the Atlanta area for a non-profit mainstream school that offered quality individualized instruction in a caring, informally progressive setting, specifically devoted to students who wanted to succeed. Ben Franklin Academy was founded to meet this need.

The school was incorporated as an independent, non-profit school in November, 1987, and officially opened in June, 1988, with 12 students enrolled in its summer program. Through the last thirty-five years, Ben Franklin Academy has increased its enrollment to approximately 120 students a year. Since its founding, BFA has graduated over 1300 students. The school was accredited by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), now Cognia/SAIS, in 1994 and was reaccredited in 1999, 2004, 2010, 2015, and 2021.

BFA Through the Years


Ben Franklin Academy started in 1987 at the Clifton Road location. The building has undergone numerous expansions through the years. 


At first our faculty and staff numbered only 4 or 5 (counting Dr. Smethurst and Burdette), but it soon grew to around 12.


Our faculty repidly expanded to around 12 by the 1990s.


We added more staff and faculty by the late 90s.


BFA has always enjoyed roses, following one of Dr. Smethursts' greatest passions!  Even in the early years BFA's rose bushes were perhaps the most talked about flowers on Clifton Road.


This picture is of Dr. Smethurst with Shadow, one of our cats from Emory.


Shadow, one of our first cats, lived to be 14. Here is he sitting in one of his favorite places, a desk!


This is Groucho. He lived to be 12 years old.


This picture is of Peter Birdsey and Shadow.


It wasn’t long before BFA outgrew the little red brick house on Clifton Road.  Dr. Smethurst and Dr. Burdette looked around for a bigger house, but could not find a better location.  They were able to buy the Clifton Road House and expanded it.


Laying the foundation of the Media Center in Sr. House.


Laying the foundation of the Media Center in Sr. House.


The Senior House, after construction, included two new instructional spaces in the Media Center.


Allee from Sr. House to Jr. House 


When neighbors Dr. Gus and Mrs. Margaret Napier decided to retire they talked to Dr. Smethurst and Dr. Burdette about buying their Family Counseling Workshop building at 752 Houston Mill Road.  Dr. Napier was a member of the BFA Board of Overseers.

With the help of foundations, family, and friends, and with the guidance of BFA's Board, especially Jane and Dameron Black III, BFA was able to buy and fully renovate the beautiful old home. This building is now the location of the school's main offices and called Junior House.


The newly renovated Jr. House provided a new look to the growing campus.


Trustees Jane and Dameron Black at the groundbreak for the Carraige House expansion. 


A few years later, BFA added a multi-purpose classroom space to Sr. House. A dark room for photography was also added!


This is a picture of Carriage House from the back of the property.


With the encouragement and direction of BFA's Board, the school was once again able to garner support from families, friends, and foundations to build the Carriage House, which has enabled BFA to develop the Drama Program and grow in other ways as well.


The Carriage House after construction.


Over the course of BFA's early history, graduating classes continued to grow in size. Earliest graduations took place inside of the Houston Mill House, Emory's Faculty Club. When graduation classes became too large, the ceremony was moved to Cannon Chapel on Emory's campus.


One of the earliest graduating classes at the Houston Mill House of Emory University.


In the late 1990s, graduation took place at Cannon Chapel.

BFA Glenn_Memorial_graduation

Eventually, BFA graduation had to take place at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on Emory's Campus. We had outgrown Cannon Chapel.

student_and_Lewis the cat

The community would not be complete without cats – BFA adopted “Lewis” and “Clark” who followed Groucho & Shadow. These cats lived in the Humanities Classroom in Senior House. 


BFA adopted "Yoda," too, who lived in Junior House.


Here, Yoda is held by Dr. Smethurst.