Board of Trustees President Alfred M. “Ran" Randolph Jr. '80 opened the first meeting of faculty and staff to start the school's 295th year with a personal story, one that focused on the power of teachers to transform lives by understanding precisely what each student needs and making a connection.
Randolph, who is Chief Growth Officer and Vice President for Associate Recruitment at Kaufman & Canoles, took his audience back to his early days as 5-year-old at the now-defunct Honey Bear Kindergarten, which he joked was a “feeder school" for Norfolk Academy. Randolph described himself as extremely shy and attached to his mother, so when his parents told him that he was going to take the application test for the Academy, he had his strategy ready for the application test: He cried immediately, and with such intensity, that his embarrassed parents had to take him right home.
Through assiduous efforts, his parents secured a second opportunity. Bolstered by promises of treats, Randolph managed to do well enough--only crying after 45 minutes--that Headmaster J.B. Massey Jr. promised that he could attend school in the fall, if he could successfully complete a week of Academy Day Camp.
Randolph refused to ride the bus, so his father wrestled him into the car, and they drove to campus. Just as he was preparing to refuse to get out of the vehicle, the car door opened, and a man appeared. “You must be Ran," the man said, “we're going to be best friends!" That man was Dave Trickler, who served as a teacher, coach, director of Academy's summer camps, and Director of Athletics.
Coach Trickler, who was also Randolph's 9th grade World History teacher and football coach, changed Randolph's life. He “made it possible for me to clear that hurdle and come here," Randolph said. “Do not miss an opportunity to lift up a child. Make a difference for them, and you can do it here."
Randolph said that Coach Trickler was just the first in a long line of teachers who made an impact on his life and those of this three children, Ranny '14, Christian '18, and Peyton '21.
“I have a debt I can never fully repay," he said, and that accounts for his commitment to it, which has included guiding the school as Board President through the pandemic and a search for the next Head of School, which was brought to a successful conclusion this summer with the appointment of Travis J. Larrabee, currently Assistant Head of School at Penn Charter in Philadelphia. Larrabee will step into the role on July 1, 2023.
In his address to faculty, Headmaster Dennis Manning picked up on the theme of teacher-student connections. He noted that the school prevailed during the pandemic, but the measures required to conduct school in-person, such as masking, social distancing, and great reliance on technology, had, of necessity, disrupted school culture.
He said this academic year, which he has dubbed the Year of Kindness, will be one of restoration, and that faculty and staff must redouble their efforts to build strong connections, both with one another and with students. He said school traditions, like individualized, personal greetings as students enter their homerooms in Lower School each morning, are important hallmarks of school life. The social interactions that happen during family-style lunches are integral to student development and wellbeing, he observed.
He said that students should be encouraged, through the example set by faculty and staff, to make eye contact and greet one another when they pass one another on campus.
To emphasize his point, Headmaster Manning, who started his career as an English teacher and still teaches an Upper School English class each year, drew on a quote from E. M. Forster's novel, Howard's End. In it, the protagonist, Margaret Schlegel, delivers a passionate speech about the power of human relationships to elevate life, using two words, which Manning echoed, as a theme: “Only connect!"