It was a historic night at Norfolk Academy.
The Board of Trustees held a reception on April 26 to honor Headmaster Dennis Manning, who is retiring this year, for his 22 years of dedicated and visionary leadership of the school, and announced that the Lower School, which underwent a major expansion and reimagining as a result of The Defining Leadership Campaign, will be named the Dennis G. Manning Lower School.
The announcement, which had been a closely held secret, was made by two individuals who have served the school with great distinction, and who made the honor possible: Past Trustee Helen Dragas ’79 and Trustee Conrad M. Hall. They also unveiled a portrait and a plaque that summarizes Headmaster Manning’s contributions to the school.
In his remarks, Mr. Hall noted that Mr. Manning made the Lower School a top priority, strengthening reading and math, introducing an engineering program and expanding science instruction, and keeping the focus on character-shaping lessons in honor, civility, and community service. “The Lower School enhances the learning experience in the grades that follow by the incredibly strong foundation it builds, and thus it is the bedrock of this Academy,” he said.
Ms. Dragas drew on personal memories, as one of her three children entered first grade alongside Mr. Manning’s daughter, so she got to know him as a parent on a shared journey, as well as headmaster of the school. She expressed profound appreciation for Mr. Manning’s wisdom over the decades. “This is not a job for the faint of heart or a person of soft backbone. Rather, it is a role suited only for someone with Dennis Manning’s rare constitution for effective, steadfast leadership—always from the heart, always guided by unshakable values, always selfless, and in an age of seemingly rampant narcissism, always humble.”
Their announcement was preceded by a video tribute to Headmaster Manning with reflections from trustees, administrators, faculty, and students. It focused on the myriad ways his leadership has transformed the school, including innovation in the overall educational program; building projects that served those programs and beautified the campus; greater diversity of the student body and the faculty and administrative ranks; and the way that his gift of forging genuine relationships made everyone feel a sense of belonging. The video also touched on the extraordinary partnership between Mr. Manning and his wife Beth, who has also served the school with great dedication. This year, as he steps into retirement, she is serving as co-chair of Field Day.
The naming decision had been a closely held secret by the donors and Board leadership, and Mr. Manning appeared both surprised and floored by the moment. In his remarks, he reflected on the friendships that have brought him profound joy in serving the school. “This is the greatest personal honor I have ever received in my life,” he said. “There is no way to sufficiently express my appreciation and gratitude.”
View the Video Tribute to Headmaster Manning.