Norfolk Academy | Norfolk, VA
Touting a 1728 founding and a legacy as one of the best schools in Virginia, Norfolk Academy was the established market leader. But some Tidewater families had started equating the school’s longevity with being almost anachronistic, and risked missing out on the astounding achievements in teaching, learning, and leadership that the Academy advanced.
To get outsiders to notice the school’s many innovations and boundary-breaking present, while also respecting its storied past, Norfolk Academy needed to emphasize the remarkable transformation each Academy student goes through—never in fits and starts, but very intentionally in time.
Dennis Manning, Head of School
Long the market leader in Hampton Roads—and the oldest independent school in the Commonwealth of Virginia—Norfolk Academy has enjoyed great success and institutional health for decades. And while the Academy’s transformative teaching and learning, close-knit community guided by a beloved Honor Code, forward-looking academic initiatives, and steadfast leadership are second to none, Norfolk Academy’s communications about this proud and ever-improving school lagged behind 2014 realities.
In fact, many young families across Hampton Roads began wondering if the Academy seemed a bit too rigid, and didn’t understand the why behind idiosyncratic features like the first-grade entry point, single-sex classes through grade four, and a middle and upper school that both began a year later than competitors. Also poised at the inflection point of a new capital campaign, Norfolk Academy leaders understood that clearly—and freshly—articulating the Academy’s unique value proposition was long overdue.
This honor-bound yet always improving school that so often points to its 1728 founding, while also inventing forward-looking programs like the Center for Civic and Global Leadership, cares deeply about time. About sequencing. About progression and transitions and momentum. In this context, the first-grade entry point becomes obvious. Norfolk Academy invites in children who are developmentally ready to learn and interact at a more mature stage, even as the trend at most schools is to drop the starting age from five to four
to three and under.
Single-sex through grade four also makes developmental sense, as do the later transitions to middle and upper school: Why not provide students more time to grow into themselves, to take leadership positions, to build both confidence and capability before entering the next challenging division? Over time, Norfolk Academy has fine-tuned a grades-one-through-twelve continuum that honors children at every level and calls on them to achieve beyond their years.
Norfolk Academy hasn’t just incrementally improved over time. The school produces transformative student outcomes by understanding what developmental stages and student mindsets come first, and how to reliably produce breakthroughs, milestones, and ah-ha moments in time. The very cadence of _____ first. _______in time., serves as a conceptual metronome for the rhythm of life and learning at Norfolk Academy. These “temporal pairs” honor the school’s ethos of judicious experimentation with the new, recognize the school’s storied tradition, and illustrate the campus-wide commitment to preparing citizen-scholars who would not just succeed at and after the Academy, but continually improve the community and people around them.
By framing all of Norfolk Academy’s distinctive features—from the Honor Code and leadership initiatives to the first-grade entry point, single-sex during the early years, and later transition points—through the temporal pairs of ______ first. _____in time. the Academy immediately receives credit for being the thoughtful, planful, and ever-improving school that some community members had overlooked in recent years.
New branding for Norfolk Academy rolled out in fall 2015 to much enthusiasm and support. The school’s highly loyal faculty expressed great admiration for the messaging and reported utmost confidence that it represented Norfolk Academy authentically and compellingly. Meanwhile, current parents confirmed that the temporal pairs epitomized their own children’s transformative growth at the Academy. With internal resonance shored up, the program made its way into greater Tidewater, reintroducing countless families to the stunning 2015 realities of Virginia’s oldest independent school.