Faculty Profile: Tara Chokshi and Franklin Kennedy

Job titles:  Tara is the Director of Multicultural Education and Global Travel and teaches Upper School Art, Art History and World Religions. Also, she is the Department Chair of the Fine Arts Department, a role she will exit at the end of the school year.

Franklin is the Head of World Languages, while also teaching Greek and Latin.

Years teaching at Prep: Both Tara and Franklin have been at Augusta Prep for 30 years. They started on the same day in August 1993.

Background: Franklin was born in Chapel Hill, N.C., spent some time as a youth in New York City, but grew up mostly in Binghamton, N.Y. He grew up with several teachers and professors in his family, but he had no plans to follow that path. He majored in the Classics at the University at Albany (State University of New York). After spending a year abroad in Denmark before his senior year, he returned with the revelation that he enjoyed the linguistic aspect of the Classical World. After graduation, he obtained his Masters of Teaching degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Tara grew up in the Augusta area, graduating from Evans High School. She attended Augusta College, while also working at a local frame shop. At Augusta College, she studied mainly 2D studio art, but also learned Art History and fell in love with the subject. During her Junior year of college,  she was able to study abroad in Italy, where she studied Ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art more in-depth.

"Great program," she said. "I loved going there. I got a great art education."

Tara describes herself as a shy kid who was a voracious reader who was also an “art kid."

“My mom and dad recognized that I loved to draw when I was little and I was drawing on literally everything. There was a back side of a bathroom door that I had just gone to town on as a kid and they left that until we weren’t in the house anymore - pretty good drawings, too. I just loved art. So they always had art supplies for me.”

Tara specializes in 2D Art (drawing, painting, print-making), while her husband Shishir, who owns Tire City Potters in downtown Augusta, specializes in ceramic arts. 

“I know there’s a lot of new media out there. I know there’s a lot of new ways of making things, and I think it’s wonderful” she said. “For me, painting and drawing are the foundations of everything else.”

If you take a step inside Tara’s art room, you will see pictures of one of her influences, Frida Kahlo, a self-taught artist.

“(Kahlo) didn’t have an academic art path, but her life story is seen in her art and I just love that,” Tara said, adding Baroque period artist Artemisia Gentileschi as another influence. “A lot of female artists I really look to, because for so long in history they weren’t even known, but they are important and their work is valuable to history.”

How they found Prep: Franklin had a temporary teaching job at a boarding school in Connecticut when he attended a jobs conference in New York. There, he met former Augusta Prep Head of School Steve Blanchard who was at the same National Independent Schools Association conference recruiting teachers. 

"He invited me down for an interview," Franklin said. "I thought I'd stay for maybe five years in Augusta, Georgia. But it's 30 years later now."

The summer after her college graduation, Tara received a call from one of her private art teachers, Lucy Weigle, a well-known artist in the Augusta area. Weigle told her in late July 1993 about an opportunity to teach art at Augusta Prep. 

"I came here with my little art portfolio and sat in the office with Steve Blanchard and Sandy Lawrence, the guidance counselor at the time," Tara said. "I was hired about two weeks before school started. I was part-time that first year and full-time the next year."

At the time, Tara had experience giving private art lessons and had taught in summer camps. But she welcomed the new adventure, even if there was another challenge.

"I was only five years older than my students," she said, laughing. "I looked like I was 16. It was tough back then."
A special friendship: When Tara and Franklin started in August 1993, they were part of a younger group of faculty members who spent a lot of time together outside of school.

“Franklin and I hit it off and became good friends pretty quickly,” Tara said. 

When Tara later got married in 2001 to Shishir in a traditional Indian wedding, Franklin served in the role of her brother, an important part to be played in that culture’s wedding tradition - she has two siblings, both sisters, but no brothers. 

“As far as the Indian side of my family is concerned, that’s what he is - my brother,” she said. “As far as my daughters (Meera and Priyanka) are concerned, he is their Uncle Franklin.”

What they enjoy about Prep: Franklin said the one thing that keeps him at Prep is the caring community.

“It doesn’t mean we’re perfect,” he said. “No place is perfect. But we have a kind community overall. I wouldn’t be happy at a place that didn’t have that as one of its foremost features.”

While Franklin and Tara have been at Augusta Prep more than half their respective lives, Tara said there’s something special about her only full-time teaching gig.

“I don’t know what it might feel like somewhere else, but I love how it feels here,” she said. “I love that I not only teach here, I’m a parent here. My kids get to grow up in this school. This school is as important to me as my family home. Prep  is home.”

They have each taught hundreds and hundreds of students through the years. Franklin, who has studied seven different languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German, Danish, Ancient Greek and Latin), said his love for teaching Latin stems from his love for figuring out words and how they connect to other languages and cultures, something he tries to teach his students. Also, he said he hopes his students learn something important from him - becoming lifelong learners.

“I want my students to not only care about my subject and what happens in those four walls, but I truly hope I work at fostering an environment where they want to learn beyond their years in the Prep environment,” Franklin said. “A lot of the things we discuss and discover together, I hope leads to a lifetime love of learning.”

Tara said she has taught students who have created art on many different levels. She said she hopes when students leave her class they not only love art, but they appreciate it.

“If I can have a kid walk out of class and they might not love to paint or draw, but they still have an appreciation for art, that’s something they can carry with them everywhere they go,” she said. “Also, I have a lot of kids that I call 'my kids' that never were technically my students. I’ve got students in their 40s now who are dear friends of mine.  For me, it’s less about the classes I teach and more about the places these kids can just be in and be themselves. I want kids to know there’s always a space in here for them. They can always come back.”

Hobbies: Travel is a big thing for both of them. They took a lot of trips together, mostly Prep student trips to Europe, in the 1990s and 2000s. Franklin said he’s led 20 school trips overseas during his tenure. He added he’s stepped foot in 60 countries on six different continents.  Tara has also led many school trips, though not as many as Franklin because once she started a family, travel was not possible for a number of years. 

“It’s a huge part of my life,” he said, adding his favorite places to visit are Italy and France. Franklin, who also enjoys reading and photography, said he still wants to visit Bhutan and Vietnam, while he needs to visit Antarctica to cross off his seventh continent.

Tara said she enjoys traveling and combining that travel with art and art history. Her bucket list place to visit is the South Pacific. “I don’t care if I am being pushed down the beach in a wheelchair,” she said, “I’ve got to see the South Pacific at some point before the end of my life.”
Augusta Preparatory Day School is an independent, college preparatory school serving children ages 2 through Grade 12 from the greater Augusta-Aiken area. Augusta Prep seeks to enroll a group of diverse students. We follow an open admission policy, whereby qualified candidates are admitted without regard to religion, race, nationality, economic background, or ethnic origin.