What We Believe

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Upon his arrival at Norfolk Academy as Headmaster in 1978, John Tucker convened a special committee of the faculty to rework and update the school’s mission statement.  It emerged in two parts – a “Statement of Philosophy” only four paragraphs long, followed by a detailed list of individual “Goals and Objectives.” Arthur MacConochie, who taught English here for forty years and was considered to be the conscience of the school, acted as scribe as teachers went word by word to scrutinize a philosophy that captures what we agree we stand for.  If you knew Mr. Mac, and his alter-ego, the inimitable Patty Masterson, who taught English for seven years at Country Day School for Girls and thirty more at the post-merger Academy, you can hear their voices in the words today.  It is a remarkable document.

In any event, this year Dennis Manning decided that on the last day of faculty meetings prior to the arrival of students we would read the Philosophy together.  The senior faculty members of each Division (Diane Wallace, Suzie Coker, Pat Hume, and Richard Oberdorfer) read aloud their assigned paragraphs slowly, carefully, and with emotion.  For about ten minutes, teachers with varying degrees of seniority sat next to new arrivals and remembered as one why it is we do what we do.  It felt to me as if we were traveling together down a flight of stairs to examine and understand better the foundation of our school.  I hope Mr. Manning repeats this exercise every August.

I urge you to read the Statement of Philosophy.  It’s on the school webpage under “About” and then “Our Story.” I even invite you to go word by word as the faculty did 38 years ago. As Patty herself liked to say, “There’s so much there there.”  But if you don’t have the time or energy to pore over its contents, let me quote two passages and ask you to consider how fundamental they are to the soul of the Academy.

We trust that students and faculty will be stimulated to teach, learn, and explore, to think practically and creatively, and to move toward wisdom and understanding.  First, this idea puts faculty and students unapologetically in the same boat.  The idea of a there being a closer association between teachers and students than at most other schools holds great appeal for me because it is in the daily back and forth with kids that I find my affirmation and my joy.  Second, the goal is not a finite “thing.”  Our goal for our students is much more profound, one we realize we can only “move toward” and perhaps never fully achieve.

We aim to prepare students to become ultimately useful and responsible citizens of a democracy. This country has seen crisis – civil war, even – but undoubtedly it has been a long time since the need for responsible and useful citizens has been so imperative.  The creation and construction of the Massey Leadership Center, which will house the Center for Civic and Global Leadership and other student leadership programs, is an implicit recognition of this reality.  Over the centuries our graduates have shaped this community, making it better, stronger, and more just.  May we stick to our philosophy and continue to supply future generations to continue that work.

Welcome back to a new school year.  It is good to begin again.

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