Our Story

As young people, we wondered if school was really doing that much to help us learn and grow. Then we "grew up" and set about exploring the world as adults.  We became entrepreneurs, we learned on the job by "doing," and we learned to question the status quo.  And then, to bring it all to a head, we had children...

This led to conversations about life, choices, and learning.  We reflected on our post-college experiences in the "real world," and we concluded that the current system does not prepare people for living, working, and thriving in our changing world.  One of us became an AMI-trained Montessori teacher, and saw firsthand how empowering the child can change the whole experience of education.

The traditional education model was designed to train young people for specific jobs during the industrial revolution, over 130 years ago.  It expects those pupils to all be the same, to learn the same things, at the same rates, with the same aptitudes.  And while education has evolved over time, the standard education model is still built on the same broken model created 130 years ago. As leading educational thinker Sir Ken Robinson said in his famous TED Talk, “Reform as we know it is of no use anymore, because that is simply improving a broken model…this has to be transformed into something else.”  

With all this in mind, we set out to explore the world of education innovation and alternative models.  After much searching, we concluded the following:

  • The current system is essentially obsolete, and education standardization is ineffective for all learners.

  • Children should be allowed to find and follow their true passions and callings.

  • Education is not one-size-fits-all and standardization stifles and prevents children from developing a love of learning. 

  • Character matters.

  • All children are capable of achieving greatness.

Some people may fear a non-traditional educational model. We feel that keeping with the traditional model is a bigger risk as it will not intellectually, socially, or emotionally prepare our children for our changing world. As our work life helped us realize, we are true entrepreneurs at heart and believe that real world, hands-on experience and a fulfilling journey will do more for our children than traditional school ever can.

Founding Acton Academy Nashville is our way of giving back to a community that has allowed us to pursue our entrepreneurial endeavors with great success. We feel that respecting children and families by offering this unique and progressive model of education is one way we can affect social change for the betterment of our world.

We are an affiliate of Acton Academy.

What is Acton Academy?

Acton Academy is part of a growing trend of micro-schools that offers a fresh approach to education. It is school reimagined for the 21st century. There are over 100 Acton Academies across the world as of Fall 2018 with more launching throughout the year. Learn more about the revolution here.


About the Acton Nashville Founders

Carrie and Tristan Kinsley - founders, Acton Academy Nashville


Carrie and Tristan Kinsley, of Nashville, Tennessee are a team in business, marriage, and as the parents of two wily, wonderful daughters, Caris, 6 and Arden, 2.  They both grew up in small, Midwestern college towns and moved around before settling down in Nashville, Tennessee where they’ve worked in a variety of industries and owned, operated, and sold multiple businesses. They currently own and operate two real estate companies, Domaine Residential and Domaine Development, that specialize in sales, investment, and development of residential and commercial real estate.

Carrie’s background includes degrees in education from Vanderbilt University (Peabody College) and Loyola University Maryland, and she is certified in AMI Montessori education.  She spent time teaching under the direction of well-known Montessori author, Paula Polk Lillard, at Forest Bluff School in the Chicago area, as well as at Abintra Montessori in Nashville, Tennessee.

Their shared passion for independent thinking in both business and education led them to Acton. They were working to develop their own system of education for their daughters, one that would embrace Montessori methods and create an environment for independent and child-led learning for the 21st century.  After discovering and exploring Acton, they realized it was the perfect fit not only for their daughters but also for their ambitions to create something that would contribute to their community.

Advisors Jeff and Laura SandeferFounders, Acton Academy


Jeff Sandefer - 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 Sandefer - 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."