After a thorough national search, Norfolk Academy is delighted to announce the appointment of Mr. Travis J. Larrabee as its next Head of School, effective July 1, 2023. Mr. Larrabee 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.
Mr. Alfred M. “Ran" Randolph Jr. '80, President of Academy's Board of Trustees and Chair of the Head of School Search Committee, shared Mr. Larrabee's appointment first with faculty and staff during a Zoom meeting Thursday afternoon, then in a letter to the entire Academy family. Mr. Larrabee will succeed Mr. Dennis Manning, who in March announced his decision to retire at the close of the 2022-23 academic year.
“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," Mr. Randolph said.
In his 15 years at Penn Charter, Mr. Larrabee has served in an array of roles of increasing responsibility. He started there as Upper School Dean of Students, Upper School Social Studies teacher, and golf coach. He became Upper School Director in 2010, leading a division of 450 students and collaborating with faculty deans and department chairs in 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 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 Covid-19 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, 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. He 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," Mr. Randolph said. “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."
Penn Charter's Community Code is guided by many of the Quaker principles from its origins -- the school was founded in 1689 by William Penn -- that uplift core values of integrity, honesty in dealings with others, and speaking the truth. It draws from 105 zip codes, 44 percent of its students receive need-based financial aid, and, while the school is in the Quaker/Friends network, most of the students and faculty are not Quakers.
“Travis understands the importance of ensuring that families from an array of backgrounds feel truly included and appreciated," Mr. Randolph said. “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."
Mr. Larrabee's wife, Heather, who came with him to campus during a 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.
In the months ahead, Norfolk Academy plans to provide opportunities for its community to begin to get to know Mr. Larrabee, even before he takes the helm next summer, Mr. Randolph said. Those plans are still taking shape and will be coordinated by a Transition Committee.
This announcement marks the successful culmination of the Search Committee’s work. Mr. Larrabee was one of three candidates who came to visit in June for interviews and gatherings with various constituents, including Norfolk Academy's Board of Trustees. Afterward, the Search Committee conducted a second in-person interview with him to ensure that he had the qualities to continue the school's tradition of excellence. He was the unanimous choice of the Search Committee and of the Board.
“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," Mr. Randolph said. “In short, it was a rigorous process, and Travis more than measured up — he excelled."
Mr. Randolph closed by thanking the students, faculty, administrators, parents, and alumni who participated in this process. He also offered 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.
Mr. Manning has led Norfolk Academy since 2001, and the school will continue to benefit from his extraordinary leadership during the 2022-23 school year, Mr. Randolph noted. He will work closely with the Board, the administrative team, and Mr. Larrabee 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," Mr. Randolph said. “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."