Durham Academy

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Durham Academy
Durham academy logo.png
Durham Academy Lower School.jpg
3601 Academy Road


United States
Coordinates35°58′37″N 78°58′12″W / 35.97692°N 78.97006°W / 35.97692; -78.97006Coordinates: 35°58′37″N 78°58′12″W / 35.97692°N 78.97006°W / 35.97692; -78.97006
HeadmasterMichael Ulku-Steiner
GradesPre-K to grade 12
Number of students2,526
CampusSuburban, 40 acres (16 ha)
Color(s)Green and White
Athletics conferenceTISAC
Tuition$28,170 (grades 9-12)
$27,210 (grades 5-8)
$22,700 (grades 1–4)
$14,530 (Pre-K and Kindergarten)
AffiliationsNAIS, NCAIS

Durham Academy (DA) is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school in Durham, North Carolina, whose 1,203 students range from Pre-kindergarten to grade 12. Durham Academy states that its mission is "to provide each student an education that will enable him or her to live a moral, happy and productive life."[1]

The school has four divisions - Preschool (Pre-kindergarten/Kindergarten), Lower School (grades 1-4), Middle School (grades 5-8) and Upper School (grades 9-12) - located on three campuses and comprising 4 acres.

Thirty-three percent of Durham Academy's students are students of color, with 17 percent of DA teachers representing faculty of color.

DA awarded more than $200000 in financial aid during 2016-2017, and the average award was $14,682.

Experiential education programming begins in grade 5 and takes place at the beginning of each school year. The majority are overnight trips including camping, hiking and rock climbing, while others involve interactive "living history" experiences. Students and teachers/advisors have the opportunity to get to know each other outside of a classroom setting and students get to know each other before the start of the academic year. The trips increase in skill and responsibility, leading up to "Senior Challenge," when the entire senior class heads to the North Carolina mountains for a 5-day backpacking/hiking/rappelling/orienteering wilderness experience.

Community service begins in Pre-kindergarten and is integrated into every division from Preschool to Upper School. On dedicated community service days students have the opportunity to learn about and serve one of a host of community partners that Durham Academy has developed sustained, impactful relationships with.


Durham Academy was founded in 1933 as the Calvert Method School by George Watts Hill and his wife Ann McCollough Hill. The couple established the school as a private, independent school to educate their children. The school's teaching philosophy (and its name) were based on the Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland, which Ann McCollough Hill attended as a child. The Calvert Method School's first home was in Durham's Forest Hills neighborhood, with the neighborhood's clubhouse serving as a classroom for seven students and one teacher.

In 1937 the Calvert Method School moved to John Sprunt Hill's former home at 815 S. Duke Street.

In 1959 the school officially ended its affiliation with Baltimore's Calvert School and changed its name to Durham Academy. DA also became a member of the National Council of Independent Schools and added an eighth grade.

In May 1965 Durham Academy broke ground on a new campus on Highway 751 (later named Academy Road). Students and teachers moved into the new facility in March 1966.

Durham Academy added to the Academy Road campus during the early 1970s. Plans for a starting high school were also explored.

In 1971, Durham Academy purchased and broke ground on 42 acres of land on Ridge Road to launch the Upper School. The Upper School opened in September 1973, and DA's first senior class graduated in June 1975. George Watts Hill and Frank Hawkins Kenan were both instrumental in the creation of DA's Upper School. Kenan, whose children had attended Calvert Method School and later Durham Academy, made an anonymous gift of $1 million to build the Upper School campus. George Watts Hill established an endowment for Durham Academy to which Kenan later contributed nearly $3 million.

In 1977 George Watts Hill, Fred Brooks and Bill Friday founded the Learning Development Center (now known as The Hill Center), for children with learning differences. The LDC, located on Durham Academy's Ridge Road campus, had a close relationship with Durham Academy, but had its own faculty and a separate facility for its 13 students and four teachers. The Hill Center currently operates as an affiliate of Durham Academy in its facility on Pickett Rd. The center's focus is on intensive remediation and tutoring for students with learning differences and training teachers to help students with learning differences.

By 1978 Durham Academy had grown to 795 students in grades K-12. From the late 1970s to early 1980s the school developed an honor code, a Cum Laude Society, a faculty summer grants program and established an excellence in teaching award named after then-headmaster F. Robertson Hershey.

In 1983 Durham Academy celebrated its 50th anniversary with ceremonies led by founder George Watts Hill.

In 1986 the school added to the Academy Road campus with a new library/arts/science building. That same year, Durham Academy began hosting the Durham County Special Olympics, which includes an estimated 400 athletes from all Durham County Public Schools. Upper School students and faculty plan the annual event. The entire Upper School closes on the day of the games so that students and faculty can all volunteer and host the athletes.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw major Middle School and Upper School expansions, the systematic development of Upper School experiential education programming and growth in the number of DA athletic teams to twice their size.

In the mid-1990s DA parent Gary Hock donated a 6,000-square foot building to house computer classrooms and a computer library.

In August 2002 Durham Academy's Preschool and Lower School moved to 17 acres on the Ridge Road campus. The building opened has been recognized by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design for its unique style.[2]

In 2004, the school was ranked first in the Southeast by the New York Times and 30th in the nation by Forbes.

During the 2008-2009 school year, Durham Academy celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The Upper School Learning Commons opened in February 2012. The 7,000-square-foot building includes a library, college counseling, a student store, a faculty work room, and a computer lab with 20 iMac stations. The building also houses classroom and office space.[3]

The Upper School Kirby Gym opened in January 2013. The extensive facility renovation and expansion resulted in seating for 900 spectators, a fitness center, locker rooms and trainer facility.

Durham Academy received widespread press[4][5][6] on February 12, 2014, after school administrators used rap music in a video[7] announcing that the school would be closed due to snow.

In 2015, Durham Academy's auditioned a cappella group, XIV Hours, released a video entitled "Lost in the Game"[8] that discussed the sexual nature of many popular song lyrics. The video quickly became popular and was covered in several major news sites, including MTV and the Huffington Post. The music video was also nominated for Best High School Video in the 2016 CASA A Capella Video awards.[9]

Organizational structure[edit]

The Upper School

Durham Academy is organized into four divisions, each with its own director. The Preschool includes Pre-kindergarten and Kindergarten, the Lower School grades one through four, the Middle School grades five through eight and the Upper School grades nine through twelve.


Durham Academy's academic standards are highly regarded. The school offers a rigorous and challenging college preparatory curriculum, including 29 AP courses for 2016-2017. The Class of 2016 matriculated to 49 colleges and universities. Students' Middle 50% SAT scores ranged from 600-720 in critical reading, 610-730 in math and 590-730 in writing, for a combined best of 1810-2150 on a 2400 scale.

Recent graduates have been awarded Morehead Scholarships to UNC-Chapel Hill, Angier B. Duke and B.N. Duke Scholarships to Duke University and Park Scholarships to N.C. State University, as well as merit scholarships to Santa Clara, University of Southern California, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Davidson, Dickinson, Mount Holyoke, Furman, Elon, Rhodes, and Guilford. Students at Durham Academy have won national titles in chess [10][11] and debate,[12] and a member of the Class of 2007 was awarded second place in the Intel Science Talent Search.[13] Over the past four years, DA has had 49 National Merit Scholarship finalists.

Sixty-four percent of faculty members hold advanced degrees, and they average 19 years of teaching experience.[14] Lower School science teacher Lyn Streck was named the 2008 NC Conservation Education Teacher of the Year for involving students, faculty and parents in a variety of environmental efforts.[15] Meanwhile, Upper School history teacher Mike Spatola was recognized by the Stanford Teacher Tribute Initiative in 2011[16] and received a 2012 Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Chicago[17]


Durham Academy's athletic offerings include field hockey, volleyball, cross-country, tennis, soccer, swimming, basketball, lacrosse, softball, track and field, baseball and golf. Durham Academy had the first high school boys lacrosse program in Durham County.[18] Seventy-five percent of the students in grades seven through twelve participate in athletics, with 44 athletic teams in 20 different sports.

Since 2010, DA has won 2 NCISAA state championships and had 10 NCISAA championship runner-up finishes. In 2015-2016, the school had 51 TISAC All-Conference athletes, 14 NCISAA All-State athletes and 4 All-American athletes.

The girls cross country team won the 2018 NCISAA state championship. The boys cross country team won the TISAC conference championship title in 2018 and placed second at the NCISAA state championship. The varsity girls field hockey team won the 2012 North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association championship.[19] The cross country and track programs at Durham Academy are particularly notable, with 39 team state championships and 196 individual titles during the tenure of former head coach Dennis Cullen.[20]

Several Durham Academy athletes have gone on to Division I programs, including Duke University, University of Vermont, U.S. Naval Academy, Wake Forest University, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.[21] Among those athletes are Mollie Pathman, the 2009-2010 Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player,[22] who played on the U.S. women's Under-20 national team at the 2012 World Cup,[23] Evan Fjeld, a McDonald's All-American nominee who graduated from the University of Vermont and has played professionally in the NBA D-League as well as in Malta and Switzerland,[24] and Lauren Blazing, Duke's field hockey goalkeeper, who was one of three nominees for 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year,[25] played with the USWNT in the 2016 Rio Olympics,[26] was a three-time All-American, a two-time Capital One first team Academic All-American athlete and won ACC Field Hockey Scholar-Athlete of the Year twice.[27]


Durham Academy's arts classes include chorus, band, photography, filmmaking, ceramics, mixed media arts, acting studio, screenwriting, playwriting, and various levels of dance.

Durham Academy arts alumni include Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin,[28] "The Affair" co-creator and showrunner Sarah Treem, actor Ward Horton[29] and NBC's "The Voice" Season 8 finalist Lowell Oakley.

"In the Pocket", an audition-based musical group, has performed at venues around the city and the country. There are also several extracurricular a cappella singing groups.[30]

XIV Hours has been included four times on Best of High School A Capella annual compilations, with their most recent inclusion on the 2017 compilation.[31]

Speech and debate[edit]

Durham Academy's debate team has won various national and regional competitions, including the NFL National Championship, Harvard, Glenbrooks, Wake Forest, George Mason, Florida Blue Key, Laird Lewis, and the Sunvitational. In addition, the team has won multiple state and district championships. The team is led by director Crawford Leavoy and division directors Jeff Welty, Molly Harris, Connor Leech, and Jordan Curry.[32]

Over the past 10 years six teams have finished in the top 10 at the national championship tournament and four teams have placed in the top three. Almost 15% of the student body participates.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Durham Academy Mission and History". www.da.org. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  2. ^ "American Architecture Awards". Chicago Anthenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. Archived from the original on 2006-10-08. Retrieved 2006-12-05.
  3. ^ "A new 'heart and soul' at Durham Academy". Durham Herald-Sun. Retrieved 1 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Alsup, Dave (2014-02-13). "Collaborate and listen: School closure announced with 'Ice Ice Baby'". CNN.com. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  5. ^ "Durham Academy weather announcement video". The Washington Post. 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  6. ^ [1] Archived February 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Durham Academy Weather Announcement". YouTube. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  8. ^ "Lost In The Game: A Musical Story of Relationships, Sex and Gender Politics on Vimeo". Vimeo.com. 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  9. ^ "2017 A Cappella Video Award Nominees | A Cappella Music - The Contemporary A Cappella Society". www.casa.org. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  10. ^ "Chess Champ". The Herald-Sun. Archived from the original on 2011-07-11. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
  11. ^ "National Girls Chess Tournament Results". The United States Chess Federation. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  12. ^ "National Tournament Results" (PDF). National Forensic League. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-07-11. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  13. ^ "Durham senior bags national honor". News & Observer. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  14. ^ "Admissions: Why DA?". Durham Academy. Archived from the original on 4 December 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  15. ^ "Durham Academy teacher wins state award". The Durham News. March 21, 2009. Archived from the original on February 3, 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  16. ^ "Stanford honors Spatola with teaching award". Durham Academy. Retrieved 1 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "US teacher Mike Spatola earns University of Chicago honor". Durham Academy. Retrieved 1 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Newton, David (March 17, 2007). "Burgeoning lacrosse makes a play for Durham adolescents". The Durham News. Archived from the original on February 3, 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  19. ^ Malenick, Dave. "Durham Academy wins field hockey; Broughton's Kane takes tennis". News & Observer. Archived from the original on 15 August 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  20. ^ Kim, Veronica. "Cullen turned individual runners into a team". News and Observer. Retrieved 2015-11-14.
  21. ^ "Durham native perseveres..." News & Observer. Archived from the original on 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  22. ^ "Durham Academy soccer players wins national honor". News & Observer. Archived from the original on 15 August 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  23. ^ "Pathman, Cobb lead U.S. women's under-20 roster". News & Observer. Retrieved 1 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Evan Fjeld basketball profile". EuroBasket. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  25. ^ "Blazing 1 of 30 Honorees for NCAA Woman of the Year". goduke.com. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  26. ^ "Chasing The Dream with USWNT Athlete Lauren Blazing". Team USA. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  27. ^ "Lauren Blazing Bio". goduke.com. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  28. ^ "Hope Boykin | Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater". Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  29. ^ "Durham Academy grad gets long-awaited break on CBS' 'Pure Genius'". newsobserver. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  30. ^ "An Interview With Michael Meyer Of Durham Academy's XIV Hours". Casa.org. Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  31. ^ "BOCA & BOHSA 2017 Track Lists". Varsity Vocals. 2016-12-01. Retrieved 2016-12-29.
  32. ^ dadebate.com

External links[edit]