In 1966 a group of approximately 100 parents organized a private elementary school in Suffolk, Virginia, serving grades one through seven. Located in a former factory on Newport Street, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy (NSA) opened with 128 students, six teachers and a principal, Mrs. Ruth Watts, formerly with the Chesapeake public school system. The school quickly outgrew its makeshift facilities and, in 1970, moved to a 50-acre site on Rt. 460 west of downtown. A Lower School building was erected in 1970 followed by an Upper School building to house grades 8 through 12 in 1971. The school held its first graduation with the Class of 1972.
Under the leadership of Headmaster Arthur E. Jones (1971-1984), the school developed a full range of academic, athletic and extracurricular programs and began to draw students from Portsmouth, Chesapeake and surrounding areas, as well as from Suffolk. Upon Mr. Jones’ retirement, J. Albert Barrett (1984-1989) became President and the school adopted an exclusively college preparatory curriculum. During Mr. Barrett’s tenure, enrollment grew to 850, a preschool was established, expansion of the Lower School took place, and the school became a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.
Dr. Douglas C. Naismith (1989-2005), the Academy's longest serving President, continued to pursue a course of academic and extracurricular excellence. Through his leadership, enrollment grew to approximately 1045 making NSA one of the largest independent schools in the Commonwealth. In addition to continued expansion and improvement of facilities, the Academy adopted programs for financial aid, exchange students, diverse recruitment, character education, classroom technology, and an expanded array of athletic offerings for boys and girls.
In July 2005, Mr. Shane A. Foster (2005-2008) assumed the President position, which was then renamed the Head of School in July 2005. Prior to becoming Head of School, Mr. Foster served as the Upper School Headmaster for seven years. Under his leadership, NSA purchased 47 acres of land adjacent to the school's existing property, renovated the Thomas W. Johnson Gymnasium and secured the largest foundation grant in the school’s history from the Beazley Foundation.
The Academy’s fifth Head of School, Mr. Colley W. Bell III began his tenure in July 2008 after Mr. Foster relocated to the midwest. Recognizing the significance of the Academy’s place in serving the Hampton Roads region, Mr. Bell helped shape curriculums and student leadership opportunities, enhanced the Academy’s technology platforms and facility and guided the school through its 2011-2016 Strategic Plan.
The Board of Trustees named Deborah B. Russell as Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s sixth Head of School in April 2013. Mrs. Russell will help forge the future at the Academy, a school that develops and promotes leaders who value diversity, excellence and honor. Mrs. Russell came to NSA in August of 2011 as the Director of Admissions where she used her impressive arsenal of skills to help shape the Office of Admissions. Her outlook is informed by a multitude of skills that she acquired in a variety of organizational structures around the world at the senior management level. Her experiences in high-level management, coupled with her institutional knowledge about NSA, have prepared her well for the Head of School role.
Mrs. Russell's experiences in leading strategic initiatives, crafting marketing plans and managing technology implementation within organizations has already shaped and strengthened the school’s independent school practices. In addition to the recruitment and retention of students and families, the Office of Admissions, under Mrs. Russell's leadership, has successfully focused on diversity, which provides NSA students with a broader view in a global world. Mrs. Russell is well-suited to guide Nansemond-Suffolk Academy into its next 50 years while maintaining a commitment to the school's motto of Honor Above All.