Convocation Ceremony Celebrates the Opening of NSA's 50th Academic Year

On Tuesday, September 1, students, faculty and staff, members of the Board of Trustees and special guests celebrated the opening of NSA’s 50th academic year at our Convocation Ceremony. Madison Goldberg ’16, Student Council President, welcomed the audience and offered words of wisdom to each division.

Head of School Debbie Russell informed the attendees about all of the exciting changes that occurred over the summer. “In our pursuit of excellence, we changed our food service provider, painted the roofs of the buildings, installed new scoreboards on the football and soccer fields and renovated our food service area. I am pleased to share that we have raised over $5.5 million dollars through our capital campaign, “Our Saints. Our Future. An Investment in Excellence.” The campaign allowed us to make other enhancements to our campus this summer, including the expansion of our Center for Academic Excellence, the construction of our new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Innovation Lab and the installation of a new sound system in the Thomas W. Johnson Gymnasium in the Beazley Center. This year, we also rolled out several new programs for our faculty and staff, including a new hire mentor program, professional learning communities and faculty growth plans to further support their lifelong learning and to further our pursuit of excellence in all areas. We also took a bold step forward and broke ground on our new Lower School campus in Harbour View, which will be open at this time next year. Last, but certainly not least, we made some enhancements to our programs, including changes to our math curriculum in all divisions, the addition of six new electives in the Upper School and the implementation of a seven day rotating schedule in all divisions - all in an effort to enhance the student experience at NSA.” 

For all of these enhancements - whether to our programs or facilities - we rely on the support of the entire NSA community - and that support has been overwhelming. Last year was another record year for NSA in terms of giving - for both the Annual Fund and the capital campaign. Mrs Russell was pleased to report Annual Fund giving increased last year. One hundred percent of our Board of Trustees and faculty and staff made a donation to the Annual Fund, 89% of parents, 26% of alumni, 21% of grandparents and 13% of parents of alumni also made donations. She then remarked that while those percentages were impressive, “I am most proud of the student support we had for the Annual Fund last year. Every senior, junior, sophomore, freshman, eighth grade and Pre-K3 student made a donation to the Annual Fund. In addition, last year’s fifth grade class was very close to reaching 100% giving as well! This year, I challenge ALL grades to reach 100% giving and for one student in each grade to step forward to champion the effort in his or her grade. Giving back is part of our mission and it’s imperative that our students understand the importance of giving back to their school and their communities.” She then announced that for the 2015-2016 academic year, 100% of the members of the Board of Trustees, our faculty and staff, as well as the Class of 2016 had all already made a pledge to the Annual Fund.   

Several special ceremonies followed, the first being the installation of Ms. Kim Aston ’88 as the Head of Upper School. Ms. Aston joined the NSA faculty in 2008 when she was hired to serve as the Dean of Students, but she has been a part of the NSA family for as long as she can remember. She graduated from NSA in 1988 and also coached the Varsity Girls’ Basketball and Softball Teams prior to being a faculty member. Mrs. Russell remarked that “Ms. Aston knows all of the students by name and genuinely cares about them, as well as their future. She has demonstrated her leadership capabilities in many ways and encourages both the students and the faculty members to be the best they can be - each and every day.  She promotes a positive work environment and encourages others to do the same, creating an atmosphere which is collaborative and student-centered. Today, Ms. Aston officially takes the reigns as Head of Upper School - and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Mrs. Russell then recognized several of our former Saints for their dedication and service to NSA. Claudia Stell Hawks, who started her career at NSA in 1984, taught journalism, English and sponsored the Literary Club. She retired in 2009 after 25 years of service and is often remembered by many alumni as one of their most influential and memorable teachers. Mrs. Hawks was honored to learn that the Upper School Library and Media Center will be named in her honor. Sandra Birdsong, who initially taught at NSA and later served as the Director of Instruction until her retirement in 1994, was also honored at the ceremony. Through funding from the TowneBank Foundation and Bob and Cindy Aston, The Center for Academic Excellence will now be named the Sandra F. Birdsong Center for Academic Excellence.

Three more Saints were then honored for their devotion to NSA. Saints who dedicate 25 to 29 years at NSA are honored with a gold banner and those who have dedicated more than 30 years of service to NSA receive a blue banner. Ruth Emmons began working at NSA in 1983 and retired in the spring. During her 32 years at NSA, she taught kindergarten, fourth grade, sixth grade reading and sixth grade Latin. She was well-known for integrating art, drama and music into her lessons and was admired by her colleagues for her commitment to learning. Mrs. Emmons received a blue banner for devoting more than 30 years of service to NSA.

Ann Parker joined the NSA family in 1986 and was an anchor in kindergarten. She was known to be devoted to her students and for her annual Mother’s Day Tea. A parent commented last year that they “considered themselves lucky to be a part of her last class.” In addition to teaching kindergarten, Mrs. Parker served as the Upper School track coach for many years, was a chaperone for numerous band trips and played an integral role in the band's annual used book sale. Mrs. Parker received a gold banner for her years of service, and her wisdom, kind heart and her passion for teaching our young Saints will be missed by everyone at NSA!

Georgie Morgan also received a gold banner for dedicating 28 years of service to NSA. She started at NSA as a sixth grade science teacher in 1987 and held numerous roles throughout the years. She was extremely creative with extension activities and possessed a true passion for teaching children to read. She also started the oyster restoration project for fourth grade students, where they raise oyster “spats” that are replanted on oyster reefs in the Elizabeth River.

After thanking the honorees one last time, their banners were officially retired, along with the Class of 2015’s banner. They now hang in the Thomas W. Johnson Gymnasium in the Beazley Center. The Marching Saints, Bernie and the Varsity Cheerleaders closed the ceremony, which marked the start of another exciting year at NSA!

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy is a coeducational, college preparatory private school located in Suffolk, VA. Pre-kindergarten - Grade 12.