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Observations and investigations of Norfolk Academy, its long history, and the many lives it has shaped. By Toy Savage '71, who has spent almost 50 years at the school, first as a student, then as a teacher and coach. Author of the book Norfolk Academy - The Heart of Tidewater, Mr. Savage retired in summer 2022 but continues to have a research office on campus. 


Steady as She Goes: Jeff Boyd completes his first year as Middle School Director
 

Jeff Boyd became the Director of the Royster Division in August 2021. As the new captain of our ship, he faced unpredictable winds and tides. For one thing, he was succeeding Tommy Hudgins, who had acted as an interim Director for the preceding two years, and who, with considerable help from his administrative team and enduring support from our Board of Trustees, had guided us through our long Covid nightmare. Not to torture the “Captain” metaphor too much, but under Tommy’s leadership the Royster ship had “weathered every rack” of the pandemic beyond anyone’s hopes or expectations. So, Jeff had a tough act to follow. 

Additionally, there were multiple questions and unknowns confronting Jeff and the faculty as the 2021-22 school year approached. They ranged from the many practical questions of personal distancing to the use of technology, and how to manage interscholastic sports and arts activities. More importantly, no one could predict the costs of the prolonged alterations to normal routine paid by young adolescents at such a critical point in their development. What academic expectations for them were reasonable? How could we try to catch them up after such a drawn-out period of decreased social interaction? What would reasonable discipline look like? Everyone knew that we were facing a very “new normal.” 

Middle School Director Jeff Boyd teaches an English class in 2021-22.

As a Middle School faculty, we learned two things about Jeff quickly. The first was that he had more energy and dedication for his work than one would have thought possible. (Another challenge Jeff faced was that his wife, Amanda, remained in Durham for the school year finishing her fellowship in gastroenterology at Duke University Hospital. To see her and their little girl Noa would require a rush-hour trek down I-95 and back every Friday.) Jeff filled in the weekday hours he might have spent being a husband and a father with boundless enthusiasm for taking care of us instead. Second, we learned how gregarious and approachable he is. Any moments of potential hesitancy in asking “the new guy” a question evaporated almost instantly. 

As the days turned into weeks it also became apparent just how solid was his judgment about all things Middle School. Part of his strength came from a lifetime of attending and teaching at powerful independent schools. Then, too, were his undergraduate degree from Brown and his masters degree in Education from Harvard. But his ability to make the right call, time after time, came from more than just a resumé. Jeff displayed a wisdom beyond what you can learn at school. For one thing he was an excellent listener. For another he understood that “culture eats curriculum for breakfast,” and so he set about quietly, subtly learning of our school culture from everyone from the cleaning and maintenance staffs to Headmaster Dennis Manning and the school’s administrative team. He had no difficulty disposing of pre-conceived notions in favor of lining up with how we do things. It may be that as he goes forward, he will want to nudge our school in this direction or that. But he showed the great and good common sense not to force any issue just as he was settling in. 

Truth be told, the pandemic had had negative effects on our student body that were deep, far-ranging, and impossible to program your way around. In particular, the social costs paid by some of our students by the forced separation were very high. One by one, however, Jeff led his faculty to implement responses to those questions we might not have seen coming. We had to think hard about socialization and teamwork and discipline. There were times you wanted to shake your head. Well, with Jeff behind the wheel we spared ourselves the indulgence of shaking our heads and instead lifted our eyes quickly to focus on navigating the complicated course downstream. 

I am sure there are students, families, and faculty who at this moment wish we had handled this or that issue differently. That is inevitable. What was far from inevitable was that we would gain a captain with such remarkable skills. 

Welcome aboard, Jeff. What a great first year. Where do we head next?

- Written by Toy Savage '71, summer 2022

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Merrick McCabe