Browne Academy was founded in 1941 by Mrs. Marion Browne, an educator from New York City.
Mrs. Browne held a Master of Science from the Bank Street School of Education of Columbia University and a Bachelor of Science also from Columbia. She was a believer in the philosophies of John Dewey. The school, originally named Brownie School, began in a rented house in Arlington before moving to the present location on Telegraph Road in 1945. The 11-acre property, bought outright by the Browne family, consisted of a main building, several small storage facilities, and a barn that included stalls for horses and tractors. It was a working farm at the time of purchase and for many years after the founding of the school. The area surrounding the school was primarily farmland and woods, and while it was located less than ten miles from the Nation’s Capital, it was very rural in nature. Founded as a racially integrated school in Virginia, Browne maintains that commitment to diversity today through its core values.
The basic philosophy of the school was, in Mrs. Browne’s words, “to provide a safe, caring environment in which children could learn based on their particular abilities and strengths.” The school taught children in nursery through third grade in the castle-like building known as the Greystone.
In 1958 grades four and five were added. The grassy wooded campus, with its large equipped play areas, a wading stream and a swimming pool, was also used for a summer day camp. Brownie School continued to grow and prosper, and by the late sixties consisted of approximately 150 students. At that point, two additional classroom buildings, a swimming pool, basketball court, and three playgrounds had been added to the school.
In 1967 Mrs. Browne was killed in a tragic auto accident on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the school struggled to stay open. The family decided to keep the school in memory of their mother, and in 1975 Dr. Lois Robbins Ferrer was hired to restore the school to its former place in the community.
The school was renamed Browne Academy. Enrollment steadily increased as the school became more widely known. Word spread that Browne Academy was an academically strong school with challenging and forward-thinking programs. Computers were introduced at all grade levels, and specialist teachers added foreign language, art, physical education and music to the curriculum. The Rambler building was extended to add additional classrooms, and in 1986 the current Preschool building on Telegraph Road was purchased and renovated to house the Middle School. In 1987 the first class of eighth graders graduated from Browne Academy.
During Dr. Ferrer’s tenure, Browne Academy became an independent school governed by a Board of Trustees. The first Board Chairman was Peter Aliferis. Browne Academy was accredited by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) in 1988. Browne also holds memberships in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW). During the nineties, community service became an integral part of school life. Middle School athletic teams began to represent the school in the ABC League and middle school students learned unity and trust in a “Mountain Campus” experience each fall.
In 1993 the three-phase Master Campus Plan was designed to provide up-to-date facilities for students and faculty. By 1997 the construction of the new Lower School Connector Building and renovations to the Rambler and Greystone were completed. The next phase added a new Middle School building with 15,000 square feet of instructional space, a new pool and pool house, playing fields on the upper portion of campus, additional parking, internal roads and two new bridges. The Preschool was renovated to provide age-appropriate space for three and four year old students.
Since its founding, Browne Academy has had two long-time leaders. Marion Browne, the founder, and Dr. Lois Robbins Ferrer. Dr. Lois Robbins Ferrer continued Mrs. Browne’s belief that learning is the natural activity of childhood and that the job of teachers is to assist in that process by providing resources, sharing goals and giving guidance. Today Browne Academy is proud of the creative and progressive learning environment that continues to flourish.
In 1999 Headmistress Dr. Lois Robbins Ferrer announced her retirement after 25 years of successful headship. Beginning the 2000-2001 school year Mr. Mort Dukehart, an experienced educator from Connecticut, was appointed Head of School at Browne. Working with the Board of Trustees, Mr. Dukehart conducted a capital campaign for a greatly needed Center for Athletics and Performing Arts (CAPA). The CAPA officially opened in September 2006. Mr. Dukehart left Browne at the close of the 2005-2006 school year.
Following a nationwide search, Mrs. Margot N. Durkin was selected as the new Head of School in March 2006 and began her tenure in July 2006. Mrs. Durkin has three decades of teaching and administration experience in both independent and public schools in the Washington, D.C. area.
To learn more about Browne's history, download and read Evolution of a School, an article published in the Winter 2008 issue of Inside Browne.