The Hirsch Academy Staff
Shelley Carnes, MS, OTR/L
Head of School, Founder
Shelley Carnes has over 25 years of experience in partnering with the autistic community. She is a licensed Occupational Therapist, an Expert DIR Floortime Provider and is one of the co-founders of The Hirsch Academy. Shelley has a Bachelors of Science in Rehabilitation Science from Auburn University and a Masters in Occupational Therapy from Brenau University. She is a passionate supporter and advocate for the neurodivergent community and is a voracious learner of what more can be done to support and empower the beliefs behind neurodiversity. Shelley loves being a wife and a mom to two kids and two furry animals. She loves playing and exploring outside, playing the piano and will dance any chance she can get.
Leslie Cotton-Smith, M.Ed.
Executive Director, Founder
Julie Carnes, MA, LPC
Clinical Director, Founder
Along with being a co-founder of The Hirsch Academy, Julie is our school’s Clinical Director. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor working primarily with preschool and elementary aged children and their parents using a DIR/Floortime approach. She offers individual counseling, parent coaching and paired play sessions in her private practice located at Floortime Atlanta. She also does school observations and consultations as well as supervision of beginning professional counselors.
Julie has a Bachelor’s degree from Mercer University in Special Education with a minor in Psychology, Montessori primary certification, and a Master’s in Psychology/Counseling from Goddard College. She was a Montessori teacher for 12 years and the Education Director for 10 years of a Montessori school serving over 300 children from preschool through middle school. Julie has led parenting classes for over 30 years. For the last 20 years, she has been coaching parents in the DIR model and is a member of the national DIR faculty. She has worked in the areas of bereavement in young children, social cognition, and peer mediation. She has provided workshops for parents and teachers on such topics as floortime, understanding learning variations, helping children with emotions and social cognition, and conflict resolution.
Laurie Cotton-Smith, OTR, MSW, MHP
Laurie Cotton-Smith helped found the Hirsch Academy for her 6-year old son who needed a school that could meet his sensory needs and different learning style. While simultaneously working in her chosen field of Historic Preservation, she took on the financial and HR duties at the school. She is presently retired from her preservation job, but continues to work closely with Hirsch staff and other members of the Board of Directors on the business management of the school. Laurie has degrees from Tufts University, New York University and Georgia State University. She enjoys spending time with her family and rowing on the Chattahoochee River.
Director of Operations
Susie was previously the office manager at Morningside Day Out preschool and before that worked in the non-profit fundraising community. Susie and her husband Andrew have three kids – Stella, 14, Meyer, 12 and Reuben, 10. They spend many weekends watching them play soccer, baseball, basketball, and tennis. Susie also loves to spend time at the beach and jog/walk around the Beltline and Piedmont Park.