CAK turns 40

Some reminisce back to Cedar Springs Presbyterian start in 1977, others look ahead

When Ernie Trebing rolled into Knox County in 1977, he didn’t know what to expect. All he knew was he would be meeting with a group of parents interested in starting a Christian school.

For a long time, parents Jack and Carolyn Rice had been thinking about a Christian school. Their son, Dean, was about to start second grade. For several years, they and some friends from Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church had started talking about how nice it would be to have a Protestant Christian school in Knoxville. Those conversations had gotten more intense as the couples met at one another’s homes to pray about a school.

Finally, the day came and they met Trebing, the prospective headmaster at what would become Christian Academy of Knoxville, face-to-face.

“He said, ‘How many students do you have?’ and we said, ‘One,’” Carolyn Rice recalled recently, as CAK celebrates its 40th anniversary. “The board had said, ‘Before we interview this man, sign your kids up.’ It was a long, time-consuming application and we had struggled to get it done. The others just hadn’t gotten it done yet.”

“Trebing said, ‘Where are you planning to meet?’” Rice said, “And we said, ‘We don’t know exactly.’ We were looking at a couple of prospective properties. Different couples and one grandparent met with him that weekend and took him to dinner. Trebing said he’d pray about it, but he eventually came. He was just very open to this challenge.”

Rice said they told Trebing they were praying for 100 students by the end of the year in 1977. They met that goal.

The school that started in the Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church building now sits on a 77-acre campus at 529 Academy Way, just off Dutchtown Road, in West Knoxville.

Instead of a handful of students,

the liberal arts school that houses

pre-kindergarten through high school

students has an enrollment of about

1,000, which represents 146 churches.

The average ACT score is 28. There are 53 middle and high school sports teams and over the years, they’ve

won 20 state championships and have accumulated $40 million in


Graduates have won the Junior Rider Cup, acted on Broadway and of course, risen to the top of companies. Right now, five members of a recent senior class are all in medical school together.

Bob Neu, head of school; Craig Collier, director of development, and Melissa Tindell, director of communications, recently got together to talk about the school’s future.

“In five years, the school may have a performing arts center,” Collier said.

“We’re in the process of gathering data from faculty, staff, board members and parents,” Neu said. “What kinds of facilities, if any, are needed moving forward.”

“We’re going to take a moment to look back, but we’re going to look forward, too,” Collier said.

“We partner with Christ families,” Neu said. “The parents are the primary educators. One of the things we’re doing, because we were founded as a Christian school, is we’re going to remain true to our founders. … We’re free to talk about the big questions. The faculty members are willing to get involved with the kids.

“What’s important is that all the faculty and staff have a relationship with Christ,” he added.

“That doesn’t make us perfect but it provides a good foundation.”

“When you think about everything children have to deal with in this day and age, that’s what makes the mission of this school so vitally important,” Tindell said. “We’re helping these children navigate life and that gets messy sometimes. Christian education has stood the test of time for 40 years at CAK. It’s exciting to see what the Lord has in store for us in the next 40.”