Mission & History


The purpose of a Durham Academy education is to prepare each student to live a moral, happy and productive life. The development of intellect is central to such a life and, thus, intellectual endeavor and growth are the primary work of the school. The acquisition of knowledge; the development of skills, critical judgment and intellectual curiosity; and increased understanding are the goals of the school's academic program.

The DA Graduate: A Mission-Driven Life

What does a moral, happy, productive life look like? What do we mean when we use those words? What traits or characteristics are essential to living such a life? 

The Durham Academy Graduate: A Mission-Driven Life is the product of a yearlong conversation among faculty from all 14 grade levels, with input from alumni, parents, staff and trustees. It is a bold constellation of character traits that drives our daily work and sustains our students long past graduation.


Durham Academy was founded in 1933 as Calvert Method School. In 1959, the school changed its name to Durham Academy and began an expansion, which led to the first high school graduating class in 1975. The school 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 12. Hill Learning Center, an affiliate of Durham Academy, offers specialized, half-day instruction for students in kindergarten through grade 12 who have specific learning differences.

Calvert Method School

Durham Academy began as Calvert Method School in 1933. The school was housed in the Forest Hills Clubhouse with seven students and one teacher. The school based its teaching philosophy on the Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland, where Anne McCulloch Hill was educated as a child.

George Watts Hill

George Watts Hill and his wife Ann McCulloch Hill founded Calvert Method School in 1933 as a private, independent school to educate their children. Hill was instrumental in the construction of the Upper School campus on Ridge Road, helped found what is now Hill Learning Center, established an endowment for Durham Academy and was a longtime Durham Academy trustee and benefactor. 

Calvert Method School on Duke Street

Calvert Method School moved to 815 S. Duke Street, formerly the John Sprunt Hill home, in 1937. It was the school's home for nearly 30 years. This photo shows the school circa 1941.

Bess Pickard Boone

Bess Pickard Boone shook hands with her students each morning and afternoon.

Calvert Method School Logo

In 1938, the Calvert Method School filed its certificate of incorporation. This was the school's logo for 30 years.

Bess Pickard Boone

Bess Pickard Boone retired as Calvert Method School's headmistress in 1957. By this time, the school had grown to nearly 250 students in grades pre-k through eight. Boone is shown here (center) at her retirement party with Mary Cameron (left) and Mary Semans (right) with a portrait that was commissioned of her.

Durham Academy playground

Ties were officially severed with the Calvert School of Baltimore in 1959, and the school officially became Durham Academy. DA was also granted membership in the National Council of Independent Schools that same year.

Durham Academy logo 1968-1998

Marian Fitzsimmons, a Calvert Method School and early Durham Academy teacher, designed this logo — used from 1963 to 1998 — with a symbolic shield consisting of the Celtic letters "D" and "A" with four flames of learning surrounding the school's initials. The four flames stand for knowledge, perception, creativity and responsibility.

Readiness Class 1967–1968

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Durham Academy's Board of Trustees issued a formal announcement to integrate, stating: "No eligible student should be denied admissions because of race." Durham Academy was a leader in integration, preceding area public and private schools in its policy. This yearbook page features the Readiness Class of 1967–1968.

Headmaster Richard Delano

During his tenure as headmaster from 1962 to 1968, Richard Delano oversaw the move of Durham Academy to its new home and a modern, state-of-the-art campus on Highway 751 (later named Academy Road).

Academy Road campus

Durham Academy launched its first capital campaign in 1964 to fund the new Academy Road campus. Groundbreaking took place in May 1965, with the move completed in March 1966.

Kathleen Clement Johnson

Durham Academy's first Black student, Kathy Clement (now Kathleen Clement Johnson) enrolled as a third-grader in 1964. She is pictured here in spring 1965 with her family — father William A. Clement, mother Josephine Dobbs Clement and sister Jodi, who was soon to enter DA kindergarten. Learn more about Kathleen Clement Johnson this alumni spotlight. 

Headmaster Bob Johnston

During Headmaster Bob Johnston's tenure (1969–1977), the first hard-bound copy of the Evergreen yearbook was published, a Long Range Planning committee was formed to evaluate interest in starting a high school, and a new Academy Road building housing a biology lab, a library and two large classrooms was built.

Upper School campus groundbreaking

In 1971 Durham Academy's Board of Trustees approved the purchase of 42.7 acres of land on Ridge Road to add a high school. Groundbreaking for the Upper School was held in 1971, and DA added 10th grade while the Upper School was being built. The Upper School opened in September 1973, the first senior class graduated in June 1975.

Frank Hawkins Kenan

Frank Hawkins Kenan's children were students at the Calvert Method School and Durham Academy. In 1975, Kenan, a DA trustee, made an anonymous gift of $1 million to build Durham Academy's Upper School campus on Ridge Road, and later contributed nearly $3 million to establish Durham Academy's endowment.

Learning Development Center

George Watts Hill (center), with Fred Brooks (left) and Bill Friday (right), launched the Learning Development Center — now known as Hill Learning Center — in 1977 as a specialized learning center to address the needs of students with learning difficulties. He established the program with close ties to Durham Academy, but with its own faculty and facilities.

Learning Development Center 1978

The Learning Development Center (shown here in 1978 and now known as Hill Learning Center) began in spring 1977 in a yellow clapboard house facing Pickett Road, with 13 students and four teachers.

Rob Hershey

F. Robertson Hershey began his tenure as Durham Academy headmaster in 1978, when the school was comprised of 795 students in kindergarten to grade 12. Hershey helped develop the school's first honor code, its Cum Laude Society and a summer faculty grants program. He also oversaw the construction of a new library/arts/science building at the Academy Road campus in 1986. The Board of Trustees established an excellence-in-teaching award in his honor.

Academy Road construction

Durham Academy undertook a Long Range Plan resulting in a capital campaign that raised money to build a Middle School library, art and science building.

George Watts Hill at 50th anniversary celebration

George Watts Hill was honorary chairman of Durham Academy's 50th anniversary celebration in 1983. With megaphone in hand, he directed nearly 1,000 students and faculty into forming a giant "DA 50th" on the Academy Road athletic field.

50th anniversary celebration

Durham Academy students and faculty formed a giant "DA 50th" on the school's Academy Road athletic field to celebrate DA's 50th anniversary. The photo was taken from an airplane that flew overhead.

Don North and Rob Hershey

During Headmaster Don North's tenure — from 1988 to 1996 — a capital campaign funded major Upper and Middle School expansions, the Upper School faculty formalized a full-range experiential education program for its students and the number of DA athletic teams doubled in size. The school also added new athletic fields and expanded existing ones. North is pictured here with Headmaster Rob Hershey.

Special Olympics

DA began hosting the Durham County Special Olympics Spring Games in 1986. The annual event, which includes students from all Durham County public schools, has grown to include more than 400 athletes. All Upper School faculty and students volunteer to organize and host the games.

Current Durham Academy logo

Durham Academy's current logo is the work of Alex Isley '80, a noted graphic designer and 1990 recipient of DA's Distinguished Alumni Award. In 1998, Isley designed a more versatile logo to capture the school's spirit, yet be practical in its application to be used on everything from sports uniforms to school signs, vehicles and publications.

Hill Learning Center

In August 1999, the new, state-of-the-art Hill Center — now known as Hill Learning Center — opened its doors to 144 students. The 24,500-square-foot building is three times the size of the previous facility. Today, Hill Learning Center operates as an affiliate of Durham Academy, and is a leader in remediation programming for students with learning differences and professional training for teachers.

Preschool-Lower School campus

Durham Academy's new Preschool and Lower School moved to 17 acres on the Ridge Road campus in August 2002. The move was part of DA's largest physical expansion to date as part of the Cornerstone Campaign.

Moylan Field

Moylan Field opened on the Upper School campus in 2004. The six children of Dr. Joseph and Ann Carole Moylan, all of whom were alumni of Durham Academy, made a gift to the school in honor of their parents to fund the Upper School athletic field. Moylan Field hosts varsity soccer and field hockey.

Brumley Performing Arts Building

The Preschool/Lower School Brumley Performing Arts Building was dedicated in 2004 as a memorial to Durham Academy family George, Julia, George IV and Jordan Brumley, who were killed in the summer of 2003 in a plane crash in Africa.

DA 75

Durham Academy’s 75th anniversary was a year-long celebration in 2008–2009, punctuated by a gathering of every student, teacher and staff member for a giant “DA 75” picture on the Upper School lacrosse field. The celebrations also included a schoolwide Unity Day with a parade around the Upper School track, musical performances and the presentation of items for a time capsule. Seven banners commemorating the history of Durham Academy and its predecessor, Calvert Method School, were put on display at the Upper School, Lower School and Middle School.

Upper School Learning Commons

The Upper School Learning Commons opened in 2012, with Upper School administrative offices, college counseling, a library, a school store, a computer lab, and a communal gathering space all under one roof.

Kirby Gym

Kirby Gymnasium opened on the Upper School campus after an extensive renovation and expansion in January 2013. It was named in honor of the generosity of the F.M. Kirby Foundation. The gym seats 900 spectators, and includes a fitness center, locker rooms, a workout room and a training facility.

Headmaster Ed Costello

Durham Academy headmaster Ed Costello held the second-longest tenure (1999–2013) of any Durham Academy head of school. Only Bess Pickard Boone, headmistress from 1938 to 1957, served longer. Under Costello's tenure, DA doubled its student diversity, and underwent its biggest physical transformation yet with the new Preschool/Lower School campus, new Kirby Gym and new Upper School Learning Commons.

Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner

Michael Ulku-Steiner became DA's head of school in 2013. He began his career at DA in 1992 as an Upper School teacher, and later coach, advisor and interim director of studies. Ulku-Steiner left DA in 2000 to serve as dean of students at The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) until 2003, when he returned for five years as DA’s Upper School director. In 2008, he was appointed head of school at TASIS.