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Archived Story

Tidewater Academy alumna to lead school

Published 9:41am Saturday, August 3, 2013

WAKEFIELD—More than 15 years have passed since Frances Joyner last regularly walked the halls of Tidewater Academy, but now she again roams the familiar setting, only this time it is from the other side.

New Tidewater Academy Head of School Frances Joyner stands in Senior Hall by the handprints, where her handprint once adorned the wall. Joyner hopes to keep alive traditions such as this, foster new ones and bring back others. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS
New Tidewater Academy Head of School Frances Joyner stands in Senior Hall by the handprints, where her handprint once adorned the wall. Joyner hopes to keep alive traditions such as this, foster new ones and bring back others. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Joyner is the new Head of School at the academy in Wakefield, a school that she fondly remembers.

“I remember being in Carolyn Stanley’s math class, stressing about geometry,” she said. “Or in Mrs. Hellyer’s class, listening to her recite ‘Hamlet.’”

“I still, to this day, proof my pages as if they are being turned into Mrs. Hellyer to be graded. She expected a lot.”

Class isn’t all she remembered.

“I walked through senior hall, and it still smells the same way it did,” Joyner said. “I remember where I used to sit and eat lunch. I stepped into the gym, and I can remember buzzer beater basketball games, with the gym packed out, standing room only. I remember football games, and homecomings, which we were known for.

“You can’t hide TA pride.”

After living away from home for a number of years, Joyner started to feel a need to return, especially after her grandmother, Anne Hatch, passed away in January.

“She was a huge community supporter who gave back a lot, especially as part of the Tidewater Academy Patron’s Association,” she said, noting that her grandmother had been president of the organization for a number of years.

“I thought I would come back, and give back to the community like she had done for all of those years.”

Joyner knew was feeling homesick by January, but at that time she didn’t know in what capacity. Then, the opportunity to work as the Head of School at her alma mater came up, and she jumped at the chance.

“You could say it was on my bucket list, even though I am too young to have a bucket list,” she said. “I’m thankful it worked out this way, that I have the chance to give back to this school that I care about so much.”

Joyner is hoping to bring back the traditions she remembers so fondly, such as football and homecoming, but to do that enrollment has to go up. And she does have a strategy for boosting numbers that includes fundraising and strengthening the alumni community.

“We hope to bring in support for the school through alumni,” Joyner said. “Alumni and parents are our best recruiters.”

She also plans to make changes to the curriculum.

“There will be new electives and courses,” Joyner said. “We’ll have programs to help with 21st century skills — financial literacy, technology and things for the cooperative experience. We are working with businesses for credits.”

She said there is a lot special about the school.

“It is the best school as far as value in the community,” Joyner said. “No where else do you get a small class size, student-to-teacher ratio. They also get instilled moral values.

“Here we have leadership and volunteerism for students, and they are critical to the functionality of the school. In a public school, if no kid does anything, the school will still function. Here, it is expected and it works.”

Joyner graduated from Tidewater Academy in 1996, and then went on to get her undergrad degree at Randolph-Macon in 2000.

“My love for teaching started at Tidewater Academy, with a history teacher named Mr. Brian Justice, and I just found a connection with history,” she said. “At college, I had an excellent history teacher too, and I decided to major in history and minor in education.”

Joyner started student teaching, loved it, and got a job where she student-taught in Ashland at Patrick Henry High School, which had more than 1560 students. Later on, in 2007, she graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s in educational leadership.

She comes most recently from the Hanover County Public Schools, where she was the assistant principal at Hannover High School, which had more than 1,300 students. There is a big difference between her public school experience and the private school world, and it is one she said she prefers.

“A major difference is that you can put a name to each face, and you know their parents, where they live and where they work,” Joyner said.

Tidewater Academy will have two open houses from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6 and Wednesday, Aug. 14, at the school, 217 Church Street, Wakefield.

“I would just like to encourage you to come out and meet me and see the school,” she said. “I’m excited to be here and so thankful that it worked out this way.”

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