History and Philosophy
Norfolk Academy entered into official existence on November 13, 1728. As early as 1680, however, its presence had been foreseen by Norfolk town planners who reserved a large parcel of land across the street from the parish church as a “school lot.” Some forty-eight years later the lot was deeded to three prominent citizens with the instructions that a school be constructed there for the benefit of the “inhabitance [sic] of Norfolk Town.” That 1728 “trust deed” served as the school’s charter and created the school’s first trustees.
[Norfolk Academy teaches] you how to carry yourself around other people - to show your respect for each person. It starts from Day 1 at Norfolk Academy.....and it goes from there.
Bobby Beasley '06
Fully prepared for the next stage.
Our philosophy shapes our approach.
Bold objectives define our teaching.
Though the school lot was initially plotted out in 1680, it was November 13 of 1728 that the charter was issued.
The school burned to the ground along with most of the town in anticipation of invasion by the Royal Navy. In 1787, after being rebuilt, the institution formerly known as the Grammar School set out a list of 23 rules, the first of which was, “That the School be called the Norfolk Academy.” Though it had always been operated by Norfolk’s Episcopal Church, Norfolk Academy became independent in 1804.
Thomas Ustick Walter, who would later become Architect of The Capitol, designed a new NA building modeled after the Temple of Theseus in Athens. It still stands at East Charlotte Street and St. Paul's Boulevard. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the school went through several different phases, including a time as the “Norfolk Military Academy.” The school was buffeted by local disasters, including an epidemic of yellow fever in 1855.
Norfolk was occupied by Union soldiers, and Norfolk Academy’s building was seized and turned into a hospital for wounded Union soldiers. Within months of the end of the Civil War, Norfolk and Norfolk Academy bounced back and began to thrive.
Norfolk Academy closed, initially to restructure itself, and then due to World War I and its aftermath. During this time, a new school building was built. After a decade of difficulty due to the Great Depression, Norfolk Academy leased its schoolhouse to the United States Navy in 1939 for use as a school for navigation. The school reopened in 1946 with 94 Lower, Middle, and Upper Division students.
The modern era for Norfolk Academy began with the arrival in 1950 of James B. Massey, Jr. as headmaster. He came to Norfolk Academy from Gilman School, where he had served as a teacher, coach, and assistant to the headmaster. Through his uncompromising leadership and the vision of an outstanding Board of Trustees, the Academy grew and prospered. He established Chapel and the Honor System as the taproot of the institution. Skillful public speaking became a hallmark of Norfolk Academy graduates with the establishment of the Senior Speech Program. All of these programs, innovative in their time, have become enduring elements of the school’s distinctive approach to education.
Norfolk Academy’s final essential step to prominence was the 1966 merger with the Country Day School for Girls in Virginia Beach, and the concurrent move to the school’s present location on the Norfolk/Virginia Beach border.
The school now serves students from Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, the Eastern Shore, and northeastern North Carolina.
John H. Tucker Jr. came to Norfolk Academy as a teacher, coach, and administrator under Headmaster Massey, and he returned to the school as Mr. Massey’s successor in 1978. His drive to improve the quality of experience for students and faculty prepared the school to enter the 21st century as a dynamic, world-class center of teaching and learning. He elevated the region’s educational climate, in particular through the “Common Wealth in Education” conferences.
Of his many enduring contributions to Norfolk Academy, Mr. Tucker’s passionate commitment to the arts was perhaps the most transformative. He instituted full programs in theater, dance, choral, classical, and band music, as well as instruction in visual art.
Norfolk Academy has continued to advance its position as a leader among college preparatory schools under the leadership of Headmaster Dennis G. Manning, who came to Norfolk Academy in 2001 after serving as headmaster of The American School in England. The school has dramatically expanded campus resources with two capital campaigns, leading to construction of the John H. Tucker Jr. Arts Center with its state-of-the-art Samuel C. Johnson Theater; the James B. Massey Jr. Leadership Center; the Wynne-Darden Stadium; the Youngkin Refectory; and an expanded Lower School. Programs have grown as well, particularly in the opportunities for learning through international travel and with the Lower School’s Engineering, Design, and Innovation Center.
In 2011, Norfolk Academy established The Center for Civic and Global Leadership to further the school’s mission and to prepare students to become principled civic leaders. The Program was renamed in 2017 to honor Mrs. Jane Batten and her late husband, Mr. Frank Batten, for their encouragement and philanthropic support. The Batten Program includes five Fellows Programs: Chesapeake Bay Fellows, Global Health; Global Affairs; Literacy; and Engineering, Design, and Innovation (EDI). Fellows pursue in-depth research, and they participate in experiential learning and leadership programs to build critical skills necessary to effect real change in our world. The Batten Program’s curriculum, considered among the best in the nation, routinely brings educators to campus to study our approach.
Norfolk Academy completed its largest-ever campaign, transforming the campus with the Wynne-Darden stadium, the Massey Leadership Center, and an expanded Lower School. Our new Diversity Equity, and Justice Statement was published, spelling out that “the diversity of our community leads children to develop a greater sense of understanding, empathy, and responsibility.”
Observations and investigations of Norfolk Academy and its history