As faculty headed into buildings for the first day of meetings to start the 2020-21 academic year, the signs were everywhere that the school was launching into a year that promises to be different from any in its long history.
Faculty donned masks in the parking lots. They were greeted at entrance doors by new thermal scanners, which checked their temperatures. They waved excitedly to see one another but maintained physical distancing, even after a summer in which the COVID-19 pandemic upended many plans and kept families restricted from large gatherings.
Despite the changes in effect--and those yet to come--the restoration of core traditions that shape the beginning of each year anchored the community with enthusiasm, resolve, and a sense of renewal.
Headmaster Dennis Manning greeted faculty--gathered on Zoom rather than in the Johnson Theater--with a reminder that this year, the 293rd year since the school's chartering, has been denoted as the Year of Courage. His invocation drew on a sermon from one of the nation's most courageous crusaders for justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke of establishing “a kingdom of understanding, where men and women will live together as brothers and sisters and respect the dignity and worth of every human being."
Observing a school tradition, President of the Board of Trustees Alfred M. Randolph Jr. '80 addressed the faculty. Mr. Randolph is Chief Growth Officer and Vice President for Associate Recruitment at Kaufman & Canoles. An alumnus of the school, a parent of three sons (Ranny '14, Christian '18, and Peyton '21), and a Board member for 18 years, he referenced his profound sense of connection to, and appreciation for, the faculty.
“I have been so impressed by your ability, your sacrifice, and your love for the Academy," he said. “So as we launch into a new school year with many unique and historic challenges ahead, I approach them all with a sense of confidence knowing we are partnered with you."
He outlined a set of pledges that the Board of Trustees was making to support the faculty and strengthen the school during this particularly challenging period, which included several that spoke to the current national moment:
- “We pledge to make sure that you have the financial resources and educational assets to do your job at the highest level. And most important, we pledge to be best in class when it comes to delivering a safe work environment."
- “We pledge to work with you to enhance the spirit of pluralism at the Academy and to promote a more inclusive environment and community that through curricular change, hiring, and enrollment, delivers on and celebrates a culture of diversity and equity that rejects racism and fosters a deep sense of belonging."
- “We pledge to insure that the Academy's signature leadership programs enjoy full institutional support, so that the leaders we produce can be the very leaders of the future who will solve the intractable problems of today."
Mr. Randolph closed by expressing his own and the Board's commitment to delivering on these pledges, ending his remarks with a favorite Bible verse from the Book of Joshua with the inspirational call, “Be strong and courageous."
On the first day of meetings, faculty members also met with Jonathan Zur, executive director of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC), to discuss building a school culture with inclusion and equity at the center. Pluralism is one of the major prongs of Norfolk Academy's Strategic Plan, Creating a Just Society: Integrity, Leadership, and Pluralism, and the faculty chairs of the school's Pluralism Committee have been working with Headmaster Dennis Manning throughout the summer, which included preparation for professional development at the start of the year.
Faculty learned more details about some of the safety measures that the school is undertaking in its phased approach to in-person learning, which includes onsite testing of faculty, staff, and students. Meetings and professional development continue in the days ahead.