Chief Information Officer Jason Ramsden is one of three recipients of a prestigious award from the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, the professional association for independent school technology directors.
Supporters Turn Determination and Philanthropy into a Legacy of Innovation
by Karen Lewis Taylor | Back to Table of Contents
In 1967, following a series of decisions that would set a small downtown Raleigh church school on the path to becoming one of the Triangle’s top independent schools, Ravenscroft board members recognized that the best way to achieve their vision for the school was to relocate it. Over the next few years, dedicated supporters — including brothers Robert Holding Jr., Frank Holding and Lewis “Snow” Holding, Fran and WATSON PUGH ’38, Mary Ann Broughton, Jack Carter and Victor Bell Jr. — worked tirelessly to make that possible.
“I remember the day the Holding brothers came to the house to talk to us,” Fran Pugh, who has served on the board of trustees since 1969, recalled. “A vision grew and grew, and we had the right folks in place to make it happen.”
Two years later, when students and faculty arrived on the new campus, situated on 115 shaded acres in north Raleigh at what was then the end of the city’s water and sewer lines, they held class in temporary trailers placed amidst the pines. They likely could not have imagined how quickly the determination of those early leaders would translate into brick and mortar, desks and chalkboards, sidewalks and athletic fields.
“The school transitioned very rapidly to a full-fledged campus,” former trustee BILL MOSS ’74, who was among the first class of eighth-graders, said. “Every year I was there, a new building opened.”
In the 50 years since, the campus has become home to more than 312,000 square feet of instructional facilities, including 15 science and 10 STEM+ innovation labs, an outdoor learning center, a comprehensive fine arts center and 16-plus acres of athletic fields.
Four major fundraising and building campaigns, made possible by the foresight, tenacity and generosity of Ravenscroft’s many supporters, gave this campus its current footprint. Honoring that legacy, school leaders of today continue to make strategic (and often creative) use of these spaces to meet the needs of Ravens now and in the years to come.
An Ambitious Vision
It was in large part at the direction of the Holding brothers — who were confident enough that Raleigh could support a major college preparatory school that they put forth a 30-day, $750,000 challenge grant to the rest of the board — that an ambitious vision for the north Raleigh campus took shape.
The plan called for a rigorous, innovative curriculum for K-8 students, with an Upper School to come; state-of-the-art academic, arts and athletic facilities; and enrollment of 1,000 students within five years. As efficiently as the board had answered the Holdings’ matching challenge, they set to meeting those goals.
A $6.5M capital campaign paved the way for construction of the school’s first permanent structures, with groundbreaking for the Middle School (now Richards Hall, dedicated in 1980 in honor of longtime trustee and benefactor E.N. Richards) taking place on March 24, 1970. Determined to make the event more exciting, the board replaced the ceremonial dirt-shovelling with a blast of dynamite. By Sept. 9, the first of the now-iconic campus buildings was ready.
Each year, another new building followed. Members of the Class of 1974, who were then, as ninth-graders, the oldest original students on campus, took part in a “steel-raising” ceremony heralding the start of the Upper School (now the Middle School) on Dec. 17, 1970. By March 14, 1972, the Lower School project — eventually dedicated, at Snow Holding’s request, in honor of the brothers’ parents — was underway, its open floor plan providing flexible space for up to 400 students.
The final project began on Aug. 16, 1972. Completed in just eight months, the A.E. Finley Activity Center boasted a 1,500-seat main gym, an indoor swimming pool, a wrestling room, a dance studio and a student lounge. It was dedicated in 1974 in honor of the philanthropist and soon-to-be Ravenscroft trustee, who would eventually direct a portion of his estate, through the A.E. Finley Foundation, to provide for the building’s upkeep in perpetuity.
Aggressive fundraising by the school’s original champions would continue well into the 1980s. (As Fran Pugh remembered, it took until 1984 to pay off the school’s initial mortgage.) But the early flurry of building — which, as the Holdings had hoped, soon accommodated 1,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade — would serve the school well for another decade.
Reputation for Excellence
As the north Raleigh campus approached its 20th anniversary, school leaders embarked on a five-year strategic plan. As Mary Moss, who served as Ravenscroft’s director of development from 1990 to 2001, noted, “The existing buildings had served the school’s needs exceedingly well, but no new building had taken place since 1974.”
The $5.07M “Beyond Z” capital campaign — chaired by trustee Courtney Mauzy and his wife, Bo, with support from fellow parents James and Connie Maynard and alumni DEAN SHAVLIK ’80 and MICHAEL ’77 and TAL HINNANT MANGUM ’77 — sought to grow the school’s endowment and fund a stand-alone fine arts facility. Fundraising for the new building got a significant boost when the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, whose benefactor had donated $10,000 for fine arts programs in 1974, issued a $750,000 challenge gift.
When the Fine Arts Center opened on Nov. 4, 1993, it ushered in a new era in the school’s long-standing commitment to arts education. From the large, sunlit classrooms for band, strings, chorus and visual art to the dedicated studios for private lessons (a much-beloved program since the Tucker Street era) and the 458-seat auditorium and lobby gallery in which students’ artistic endeavors were showcased, the center bolstered the school’s reputation for excellence in both its programs and its facilities.
Invested in the School’s Success
As that strategic plan came to a close in 1993, trustees moved quickly to build on those successes and target new areas of growth and improvement. The $12.5M “Bold Initiatives” capital campaign, developed in response to a 25-year campus master plan approved by the board in 1998, aimed to modernize the campus. Separate challenge grants from Jan and Munther Qubain ($1M) and Lynn and Pete Murphy ($1.5M on a 1:2 basis) energized donors.
The four-year campaign made possible the construction of four elegant buildings in 2001. The new Upper School, named in honor of the Murphy family, included science and language labs, faculty office suites and a sunny café space. The Lower School library, dedicated to Charles and Florence Winston, and the Library and Technology Center (LTC) provided additional space for educational programming. The Jones Health Center, a gift of the Seby B. Jones family, provided a bright new space for the school nurse, who was still working out of the last of the 21 trailers brought in as temporary facilities in 1969.
“Campaign co-chairs Merrill and Marilyn Hunter lived and breathed the success of that campaign for the benefit of our students and teachers,” Mary Moss said of Bold Initiatives. “All of us were invested in the school’s success and wanted Ravenscroft to continue to be a leader in education.”
We asked our Ravenscroft Alumni Facebook friends: What spot on campus was your favorite when you were a student here and why?
Throughout the school’s growth, athletics was another point of pride for Ravenscroft. Starting with early success in both girls and boys soccer under Coach Bill Holleman in the 1970s, the school had also become a dominant force in tennis, swimming, basketball and football. Ravenscroft’s football field, informally known as “The Bowl” for its scooped-out playing field, was the envy of area schools.
However, by the close of Bold Initiatives, the need to update some of the school’s playing fields — largely unchanged since a series of upgrades in 1985 — was looming. “There was a deep need to do something for our athletic facilities,” Athletic Director Ned Gonet explained. “Conversations in the early 2000s about expanding our track led to a plan to fill in The Bowl and greatly improve stadium amenities.”
In 2003, the $3M “Charge to Victory” campaign got underway, with trustee Mike Condrey as chair. Managing new construction, renovations and field upgrades across all three athletic seasons required significant logistical agility — including playing the 2003 Homecoming football game on the soccer field — but resulted, in the end, in major improvements to facilities and grounds for nearly every outdoor sport and several upgrades in the Finley Activity Center, including the creation of the Hall of Fame Room and the installation of ADA-compliant bleacher seating in the Main Arena.
Highly Intentional and Strategic
PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT FUNDS RECENT CAMPUS UPDATES
As 21st-century innovations continue to transform the classroom, school leaders draw on the same energy and ingenuity that first distinguished Ravenscroft in the early 1970s, adapting and expanding existing campus spaces to meet the needs of students today. As with previous building campaigns, the generosity of donors — whether through directed gifts, endowed funds or contributions to the Fund For Ravenscroft — has made it possible to create dynamic learning environments where Ravens can explore, collaborate, produce and thrive.
Flexible Seating & Collaborative Learning
Today’s student-centered learning environments require greater flexibility as students move through various modes of instruction and exploration. The Middle School’s Node seating, introduced in 2015, provides comfortable, easy-to-maneuver desks that support students whether they’re working independently, conferring with a partner or joining their classmates in a circle for debriefing. Outside the classrooms, upholstered benches and chairs provide students with comfortable areas in which to study, socialize and share their ideas and interests. A new seminar room provides a dedicated place for student, teacher and parent groups to meet, give presentations and share work.
As Head of Middle School Denise Colpitts noted, “We have been highly intentional and strategic about using this space to meet the needs of our students and bring it into the 21st century. We’ve worked to maximize space and create flexible, collaborative classrooms.”
Technology & Principles of Design Thinking
The integration of technology and the principles of design thinking into the curriculum has also brought about a shift in teachers’ approach to instruction. Setting up spaces where students can imagine, design, prototype, test and refine — whether they’re using PVC pipe and Styrofoam or laptops and fist-sized robots — has transformed existing facilities into engineering and robotics labs and makerspaces. The Keim Center for Innovation and Research, which opened in September 2018 in the former Library and Technology Center, houses classrooms, an innovations lab, cutting-edge manufacturing equipment and collaboration space.
“Because of the rapid advancements we see coming down the pike, continued investment in technology is very important for our future,” Jason Ramsden, chief information officer, said. “The design of the Keim Center gives us the flexibility to meet the needs of today’s learners while keeping an eye on the future.”
Early Childhood Emphasis & Familiarity and Comfort
With the growing body of research on the importance of early childhood education — and the growing body of four-year-olds enrolled in Ravenscroft’s PreKindergarten program — Lower School leaders envisioned a space dedicated to the unique needs of the school’s youngest students. The PreK Learning Center, which opened this year in an extensively renovated pod along the back of Holding Hall, offers three classrooms and a light-filled common area where students can explore centers, enjoy lunch and feel at home in a space thoughtfully designed just for them. The new “storefront” entrance off the Lot E carpool lane eases daily transitions from the car to the classroom.
“The entire space was created with PreK in mind, including its proximity to the Butterfly Garden and Holding Garden,” Head of Lower School Nicole Girvan said. “The feel and the familiarity of the space are crucial to a young child’s ability to learn, grow and dream.”
Fine Arts Collaboration & Program Continuity
As several Lower School fine arts classrooms and private-lesson studios were being relocated to make way for the PreK Center, the same outside-the-box thinking that has energized campus buildings and grounds for decades led to another thoughtful renovation. The new Lower School Fine Arts Center unites all Lower School fine arts faculty in the Richards Hall annex, originally built as a sixth-grade center. It’s an inspired move that honors Ravenscroft’s oldest initiative — private lessons — while providing art, music, choir and strings classes within a single, shared facility that’s just steps away from Holding Hall. A central commons provides a convenient place for rehearsals and performances.
“The Lower School Fine Arts Center provides us an opportunity to have collaboration across all of the fine arts,” David McChesney, director of fine arts, said. “Every child in the Lower School will enjoy fine arts classes there. It’s another differentiator for Ravenscroft.”
Campus Safety and Security & Student Social Spaces
As schools nationwide seek to maintain safety while providing students with spaces to relax and socialize, a recent project in the Upper School offered a solution that accomplishes both. Following the 2018 implementation of a key-card access control system in the Upper School (as well as the Middle School and the Keim Center), school leaders in 2019 moved the administrative offices to the outside corner of Murphy Hall to create a welcoming main entrance with staff supervision. The corresponding relocation of the Upper School Café has yielded upgraded seating and the addition of a large terrace on the campus green. Supplementing such in-demand social spaces as the student lounge and the Keim Center café, these updates address an important need.
“Research showing that adolescents need unstructured time for optimal social-emotional development drove the creation of our current daily schedule, which includes study halls and community time,” Aaron Sundstrom, interim head of Upper School, said. “Providing social spaces for our students supports their healthy development.”
Student-Athlete Wellness & Inclusivity
Read about a recent athletics upgrade — the renovation of the weight room in the A.E. Finley Activity Center — in Fit.
Additional Gifts That Made a Mark on Our Campus
HOLDING GARDEN (1988)
A particularly beautiful spot on campus, Holding Garden was dedicated on May 16, 1988, in memory of Robert P. Holding Jr., who served as chair of the school’s board of trustees during its relocation from Tucker Street to north Raleigh and provided generous support and thoughtful guidance until poor health forced him to resign his position in 1974. He passed away in 1979.
Robert’s brother Lewis “Snow” Holding requested, upon his own retirement from the board in 1987, that the Lower School be dedicated to their parents, Robert P. and Maggie B. Holding. The next year, he established an endowment to provide for the care of a garden featuring a statue of his brother, created by Glenna Goodacre, an artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In the 30+ years since its dedication, Holding Garden, located between Holding Hall Lower School and Richards Hall, has been both a dignified reminder of one man’s commitment to Ravenscroft and a welcoming natural space for student concerts, family picnics and more.
Three more gifts explored in Ravenscroft Magazine:
BELL TOWER AND ARBORETUM (1996)
Another iconic campus landmark came about after the 1993 campaign that funded the new Fine Arts Center. Alumni parents Pete and Lynn Murphy, who had given generously to provide landscaping around the new building, were moved to celebrate the Ravenscroft experience of their son MARC ’94 and his classmates.
The Murphy Family Bell Tower and Arboretum, dedicated on May 31, 1996, anticipated the architectural style that would define later buildings — including the new Upper School, which would be named in honor of the Murphy family in 2002 — while providing another gathering spot along the interior of campus. Statuary of ravens in dynamic poses graces the central podium on which is inscribed the names of students from the Class of 1994, and welcoming benches encircle the tower.
The tower’s carillon plays Westminster Chimes on the hour and the school’s anthem at noon. Students, faculty and staff delight in ringing the bell to symbolically call the community to holiday chapels and other all-school events. Stretching from the tower, located at the foot of the stairway to what’s now the Middle School, along the campus green to the A.E. Finley Activity Center and Gonet Gateway beyond, the rose arbor provides jaw-dropping pops of color in the spring and a stately backdrop to commencement exercises in June.
Photos courtesy of BILLY HOWARD ’73
young peoples’ theatre (2005)
In 2004, an anonymous donation funded renovations and an addition to the Fine Arts Center, significantly increasing capacity and programming in the school’s growing theater program.
The young peoples’ theatre, a 50’-by-50’ black-box space, was seamlessly built into the back corner of the existing building and has its own entrance and lobby. Well-suited for classes and workshops, small-group performances and even large-scale productions such as the bi-annual Madrigal Dinner, the theater abuts the expanded scene shop, another beneficiary of the gift.
This versatile space provides a classroom area for theater classes during the busiest times of the fine arts calendar while also providing rehearsal, costuming and dressing space for productions in Jones Theatre. The inspiration for the gift was longtime stagecraft teacher and theater manager Russell Vacanti.
MORTON COURTYARD (2010)
The construction of the young peoples’ theatre presented another opportunity to creatively adapt outdoor space into something inspirational. When the addition was made to the Fine Arts Center, a parking lot and the loading dock for the Dining Hall were relocated, leaving an open space enclosed almost entirely by the building’s walls.
Pansy Morton, a former faculty member, alumni parent and benefactor of the Hugh Morton Jr. Collection created in memory of her husband, brought in landscape designer Tom Hunter to reimagine the space. Highly symbolic in its design — the stone walls allude to Hugh Morton Jr.’s alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the gently rolling hills in the garden beds represent Grandfather Mountain, which the Morton family nurtured into one of the state’s most beloved destinations — the Hugh Morton Jr. Courtyard is a peaceful oasis amid the bustle of fine arts activity just inside the building. David McChesney, director of fine arts, called the courtyard, dedicated in May 2010, “a wonderful space for performance and celebration.”
PHASE I (2011)
As the first step in implementing a new 25-year campus master plan, Ravenscroft’s Phase I campaign raised more than $1.5M to fund improvements to the perimeters and driveways of campus. The project included landscaping and fencing upgrades, road improvements, enhanced security features, additional parking and new campus signage.
Replacing the aging chain-link fencing that had bordered the Falls of Neuse Road entrance since the 1970s provided an opportunity to elevate Ravenscroft’s public face in much the same way previous campaigns had transformed the campus itself. The project marked a successful collaboration with Davis Kane Architects and landscape architect Richard Bell.
The upgraded entrance at Falls of Neuse Road was named in honor of the Bell family, and the roundabout just beyond the gatehouse was named for the Sloan family. An elegant new entrance on Newton Road was dedicated in honor of the Winston family. In addition, plaques on stone columns and newly planted oak trees were inscribed with the names of many other generous campaign donors.
RAVENSCROFT WELCOME CENTER (2018)
In early 2018, it was announced that the A.E. Finley Foundation, one of the school’s strongest supporters since the early days of the north Raleigh campus, had added to its legacy of generosity by offering to lease its offices — located on Newton Road adjacent to the campus — to Ravenscroft.
Finley, a successful businessman, provided a significant gift that allowed the school to build the A.E. Finley Activity Center in 1973 and later included Ravenscroft among the charities benefiting from his estate. As a result, Ravenscroft receives gifts from the A.E. Finley Foundation each year to support the operations and upkeep of the Finley Activity Center.
The lease of the Foundation offices made possible the creation of the Ravenscroft Welcome Center, a multipurpose space that hosts a variety of activities, meetings and events and serves as the location for the Admissions team, providing a warm, comfortable and inviting space for new and prospective families to learn more about the school community.