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On December 10, 2020, Kids Express Learning Center changed their name to Hickory Hill Academy to reflect the success of their quality early childhood education program over the past 25 years, current expansion of a K-8th grade independent school, and exciting plans ahead of cultivating compassionate leaders for our community.

Once Upon a Time

In 1996 Dr. Sandra Dahl and her husband, Will Dahl opened the school with 9 children. Sandra wanted to create a school where children could have a rich early childhood education and learn to use self-expression to share their gifts with the world. Hence the name, Kids Express Learning Center.

Early Growth

Just two years later they added on to what is now the main building to add 2 additional classrooms to accommodate their enrollment. An old barn on campus was renovated in 2001 to add 2 more classrooms, The Hayloft and Big Red Barn. By 2005, Sandra and Will were offered an opportunity to purchase the property next door to their home and school campus. With a large waiting list of families who were eager to attend, it made perfect sense to renovate the home they raised their children to add 4 more classrooms and move to the property next door. Only 3 year later, the school needed additional classrooms, a gymnasium, and an administrative level to accommodate their enrollment growth. Therefore, The Dahlhouse was again renovated and added-on to create 3 classrooms, 2 gyms, and an administrative office level.

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Family Business

Sandra and Will have put more than passion and hard work into growing their school out of the property where they raised their four children, than most do in a lifetime. It was no surprise, their wish was to have this cherished family business handed down to the next generation. Two of their four children, Matthew and Heather both found a great passion to begin helping their parents achieve that dream. Matthew began working at the school in 2006 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. After years of helping his parents get the school started, he developed a great passion for working with children. He too wanted to find a way not only to educate children but to give them a school where they love to learn. Matt started out as the sports specialist teacher for a few years before moving into an administrative role as the Marketing and Finance Director.

Heather followed in her mother’s footsteps by pursuing not only a master degree but also a doctorate in education. Over the past 25 years, Heather has also spent countless hours helping her parents launch the school, developing portfolio assessments, coaching the teaching staff, and organizing creative events and activities to enrich the students education experience. At the same time, Heather has also pursued a career as a teaching professor at the University of Wisconsin.


In the fall of 2019, Sandra and Will began plans to transition the family business to Matthew and Heather. Matthew was eager to begin growing the school to fill a need for families that wanted this same educational experience to continue into middle school. In the fall of 2019 he began his dream of starting a K-8th Grade program with 9 Kindergarten students. At that same time, the leadership team at HHA and expert curriculum writers began defining the K-8th grade curriculum and vision of Cultivating Compassionate Leaders.

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