Meet Our New Head of School
We are delighted to welcome Travis J. Larrabee as Norfolk Academy's new Head of School, starting July 1, 2023.
Mr. Larrabee joins us from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, where he has served since 2007, most recently in the role of Assistant Head of School.
He is the ideal person to lead Norfolk Academy into the future, embracing our Philosophy & Objectives, our Honor System, and our distinctive approach to innovation — “judicious experimentation with the new” — that has kept our school at the forefront, not just in Virginia but nationally as well.
~ Excerpts from a letter from the Search Committee Chair
About Mr. Larrabee
- William Penn Charter School: Assistant Head of School, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Upper School Director, Upper School Dean of Students, Social Studies teacher, golf coach
- Potomac School: Upper School Dean of Students, Social Studies teacher
- Dexter School: Upper Elementary teacher
- University of Pennsylvania: University mentor, guest instructor
- University of Virginia: Master’s degree in Foreign Affairs
- Colby College: Bachelor’s degree in Government and Russian studies
Travis and Heather Larrabee have three children: Jack, a student at Penn State; Owen ’24, a rising senior; and Anna ’27, a rising ninth grader.
- A Letter from the Search Committee Chair
- A Letter to the Norfolk Academy Family from Mr. Larrabee
- A Brief Biography of Mr. Larrabee
Thursday, August 4, 2022
Dear Norfolk Academy Family,
On behalf of Norfolk Academy’s Board of Trustees and Head of School Search Committee, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Travis J. Larrabee as Norfolk Academy’s next Head of School, effective July 1, 2023. Travis will join us from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, where he has served since 2007, most recently in the role of Assistant Head of School. Through wide-ranging conversations with Travis and exploration of his experiences and educational philosophy, the Board became convinced that he is the right person to lead our school with vision and wisdom. As one trustee put it: “We asked him tough questions. He answered them, and we rewarded him with more tough questions. He answered those as well.” In short, it was a rigorous process, and Travis more than measured up — he excelled.
This exciting news likely prompts a question: “When can I meet Travis?” In the months ahead, we plan to provide opportunities for you to begin to get to know Travis, even before he takes the helm next summer. Those plans are still taking shape and will be coordinated by a Transition Committee. I will continue to provide updates, and we will be sharing an introductory letter from Travis tomorrow.
In the meantime, I will do my best in this letter to convey the combination of values, attributes, and experiences that led the Search Committee and the Board to feel that Travis is the ideal person to lead Norfolk Academy into the future, embracing our Philosophy & Objectives, our Honor System, and our distinctive approach to innovation — “judicious experimentation with the new” — that has kept our school at the forefront, not just in Virginia but nationally as well.
In his 15 years at Penn Charter, Travis has served in an array of roles of increasing responsibility that have prepared him well to be a Head of School. Penn Charter is, incidentally, one of the few schools in the country older than Norfolk Academy; it was founded in 1689 by William Penn, making it the fifth oldest school in the country, and it currently serves 970 students from pre-K to 12. Travis started at Penn Charter in 2007 as Upper School Dean of Students and Upper School Social Studies teacher, and he served as a coach of the golf team. He became Upper School Director in 2010, where he led a division of 450 students and collaborated with faculty deans and department chairs in faculty hiring, supervision, and evaluation. From 2018-21, he served as Director of Strategic Initiatives, spearheading multiple projects designed to allow students to “go deep” on issues through an inter-disciplinary approach. His work focused on the establishment of a Certificate program that promotes full engagement with a topic, much like our Fellows programs, and the design of global education programs to give students a broader view of the world. Travis was also instrumental in helping to lead the school’s response to the pandemic. In 2021, Travis became Assistant Head of School, overseeing the PK-12 educational experience and several divisions, including the Center for Public Purpose, Athletics, Technology, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As Assistant Head of School, he also worked with the chief financial officer on the school’s finances and budget, supported development initiatives, and continued to advance strategic priorities.
Before coming to Penn Charter, he served at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia as Upper School Dean of Students and as a Social Studies Teacher. He began his career at Dexter School in Brookline, Massachusetts as an upper elementary teacher. Travis earned a bachelor’s degree in Government and Russian studies from Colby College and a master’s degree in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia; he has also completed numerous professional courses, and he volunteers as a university mentor and guest instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and as a board member of the Live Like Blaine Foundation.
His professional and life experience, and the way he spoke about it, demonstrated an ability to understand our school, envision its potential for growth, and take on responsibility for making us better every day. Yet it was the way that he spoke about people, and the power of building respectful, generative relationships, that convinced us that his values and his approach to creating positive change align with the values of our school. His seriousness of purpose is well-balanced with a sense of humor and a positive spirit. He emphasized the importance of listening to others, energizing stakeholders in honest conversation, and moving forward with clarity and purpose. While Penn Charter does not have an Honor System akin to Norfolk Academy’s, its Community Code is guided by many of the Quaker principles from its origins that uplift core values of integrity, honesty in dealings with others, and speaking the truth. It was clear to us that Travis understands the salient importance of our Honor System, and that he is committed to upholding it through his actions and relationships with others. He also appreciates the importance of creating a sense of belonging for a diverse student body: Penn Charter draws from 105 zip codes, 44 percent of students receive need-based financial aid, and, while the school is in the Quaker/Friends network, most of the students and faculty (including Travis) are not Quakers. Travis understands the importance of ensuring that families from an array of backgrounds feel truly included and appreciated.
And as we get to know him, we will also get to know his family. Travis’s wife, Heather, who came with him to campus during his visit in June, shares his passion for education. She serves as a middle school learning specialist at Penn Charter and plays a key role in the Penn Charter community. They have three children: Jack, an incoming freshman at Penn State; Owen, a rising junior; and Anna, a rising eighth grader. While the Larrabee family has a year of school ahead in Pennsylvania, I am excited for all of them to get a warm welcome and to fully experience the warmth of the Bulldog family — there's nothing like it.
This announcement marks the successful culmination of the Search Committee’s work. As I noted in a previous letter, we had three candidates who came to visit in June for interviews and gatherings with various constituents, including our Board of Trustees. Through this process, Travis quickly emerged as the frontrunner. Afterward, the Search Committee conducted a second in-person interview to ensure that he had the qualities we sought to continue Norfolk Academy’s tradition of excellence. He was the unanimous choice of the Search Committee and of the Board.
I would like to thank all the students, faculty, administrators, parents, and alumni who participated in this incredible effort and offered feedback, advice, and encouragement along the way. Your participation was important and very much appreciated.
I would also like to offer my very heartfelt thanks to the members of the Board of Trustees who served on the Search Committee: Michelle Bass Adams ’91, Owen D. Griffin Jr., John O. Wynne Jr. ’94, Guy R. Friddell III ’69, and Timothy J. Stiffler, who is immediate past President of the Board. Their dedication to this process has been a beautiful and inspirational manifestation of their love for our school. As I have shared in previous letters, we have been guided through our search by Devereaux McClatchy, president of Carney, Sandoe, & Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent school search firms, and his capable team of consultants. We are grateful for their work to date, and we look forward to continuing our partnership as we navigate the upcoming leadership transition.
We will continue to benefit from the extraordinary leadership of Dennis Manning during the 2022-23 school year. Dennis will, as always, keep us moving forward on our strategic priorities, and he will work closely with the Board, the administrative team, and Travis to ensure a successful transition. Thanks to Dennis’s leadership over the past 21 years, Travis will step into his new role at a moment when the school has momentum on all fronts.
I look forward to joining you in welcoming Travis, Heather, and their children to the Bulldog family, and to working with him to elevate our school in every regard. More exciting times ahead! Enjoy the rest of your summer, and I hope to see you soon as we launch into what promises to be an extraordinary and memorable year in the life of our school.
All the best,
Alfred M. “Ran” Randolph Jr. ’80
President, Board of Trustees
Search Committee Chair
Dear Norfolk Academy Family,
I am honored and excited for the opportunity to become Norfolk Academy’s next Head of School. I have been aware of the strength of the Academy’s educational program and the warmth of its community for some time, having previously lived in Virginia and attended graduate school at UVA. However, experiencing this first-hand with members of the Norfolk Academy community over the last few weeks and months has been nothing short of extraordinary.
One of the many things that draws me to this position at Norfolk Academy is the school’s enduring commitment to a student-centered holistic education, which focuses on mind, body, and character. Reflected in the Philosophy and Objectives, the Honor Code, the Diversity, Equity, and Justice statement, and the Portrait of the Graduate, it is clear that the Academy prepares its students to become informed, principled, and engaged citizens looking to make a positive impact on the broader world, within their own communities, and perhaps most importantly, on those they know and love. A Norfolk Academy education is a transformational 12-year journey that shapes students’ lives long after they graduate, and this deeply resonates with me as an educator and as a parent.
The passion and appreciation folks have for the Academy emanate from every conversation and interaction. People care intensely for this institution, but they do not conflate pride with hubris. Great institutions (even those that are close to entering their fourth century of success) do not rest on their laurels; instead, they look carefully at how they can make a great place even better, all while staying true to their mission and ideals. This proud humility aligns with my own values and principles, and it is ever-present in how I teach, lead, parent, and live my life.
My wife, Heather, and our three children share my excitement for this opportunity, and we cannot wait to move back to Virginia. Those who know me understand that there is nothing more important to me than my immediate and extended family. For each other, we are sources of inspiration, comfort, and joy, but most importantly, we are present to one another. While I would never want to overextend the comparison between families and school communities, I do think successful institutions and leaders help to model and create cultures that honor, and perhaps even require, that all community members be fully present to one another. They create a physical and temporal environment where people can listen, reflect, and align the cognitive, the emotional, and the spiritual. This commitment to being present creates relationships through which our schools survive and thrive, and without a doubt, I sense this commitment at Norfolk Academy.
I want to thank the Board and the Search Committee, as well as all of the members of the Norfolk Academy community I met during this thoughtful process. Thanks to a talented, dedicated faculty and staff, to stable and inspired board governance, and to the steady, caring, and strategic leadership of Dennis Manning and his administrative team, Norfolk Academy is thriving and can look deep into the 21st century from a position of strength.
I look forward to meeting more of you and to listening and learning more about what makes Norfolk Academy such a unique and special place. Until then, I hope you enjoy the remainder of your summer.
Head of School
Travis J. Larrabee became Norfolk Academy’s Head of School on July 1, 2023. He is just the fourth head of school at the Academy since 1950, following J.B. Massey, John Tucker, and Dennis Manning.
Mr. Larrabee joins Norfolk Academy from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, where he served from 2007-23. He started as Upper School Dean of Students, a Social Studies teacher, and coach of the golf team. He became Upper School Director in 2010, leading a division of 450 students and collaborating with deans and department chairs in faculty hiring, supervision, and evaluation. From 2018-21, he served as Director of Strategic Initiatives, spearheading projects designed to allow students to explore issues through an inter-disciplinary approach. His work focused on the establishment of a program that promotes full engagement with a topic, much like the Academy’s Fellows programs, and the design of global education programs to give students a broader view of the world. He was also instrumental in helping to lead the school’s response to the pandemic. In 2021, he became Assistant Head of School, overseeing the PK-12 educational experience and several divisions, including the Center for Public Purpose, Athletics, Technology, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He also worked with the chief financial officer on the school’s finances and budget, supported development initiatives, and continued to advance strategic priorities.
Before coming to Penn Charter, Mr. Larrabee served at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia from 2003-07, as Upper School Dean of Students and as a Social Studies Teacher. He began his career at Dexter School in Massachusetts as an upper elementary teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Government and Russian studies from Colby College in 1995 and a master’s degree in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 2003; he has also completed numerous professional courses, and has volunteered as a university mentor and guest instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and as a board member of the Live Like Blaine Foundation.
Mr. Larrabee’s wife, Heather, shares his passion for education. She served as a middle school learning specialist at Penn Charter. The Larrabees have three children: Jack, a student at Penn State University; Owen ’24; and Anna ’27.