Suffolk Public School District – Suffolk, Virginia

January 3, 2024
Suffolk Public School District - Suffolk, Virginia

Suffolk Public School District

A Premier School Division on the Rise


Premium partnerships and student-focused leadership shape the future at Suffolk Public Schools

Fostering a community-wide culture of academic excellence means creating premier institutions that stand as beacons of educational distinction.

School districts, as the backbone of our educational system, bear the responsibility of nurturing students into not just scholars but visionaries equipped to thrive in the world. Achieving this dual objective demands a fusion of innovation, dedication, and community engagement.

The Suffolk Public School District has managed to execute this vision with incredible efficiency. It stands as a haven where students, teachers, and administrators work collaboratively with shared goals.

Established in 1974 through the consolidation of Nansemond County and Suffolk City, this educational bastion has been sculpting young minds and enriching the community fabric for almost 50 years. Its journey toward excellence is marked by a dedication to diversity and providing equitable opportunities for every student to succeed.

A Student First Philosophy

With approximately 14,280 students, the Suffolk student body is 56% African American, 6% Hispanic, 6% biracial, and around 30% Caucasian, with a 15% special education population.

With such a large range of experiences to consider, the district prioritizes honoring its students’ diverse perspectives.

Suffolk Public School District - Suffolk, Virginia

Dr. John B. Gordon III, Superintendent

“I have a superintendent roundtable where before I make a major announcement or decision… I always want to make sure that the student voice is a part of it because they’re the ones who are actually going through it,” Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III says.

To that end, leaders within the school district always try to identify or create incentives for students to play a more active role in their education.

The Suffolk Public School (SPS) curriculum is heavily inspired by the proverbial “it takes a village” mentality. The curriculum is supported by a strong network of partnerships that collectively provide students with opportunities to not only strengthen their knowledge but also to learn the history behind the lessons they’re being taught.

The SPS partnership with 21stCentEd produced a book titled “It Takes a Village to Raise a 21st Century Graduate: The Suffolk (VA) Edition.”

The book was part of the district’s initiative to educate students about workforce development and STEM subjects and to develop innovative methods to improve student achievement in Science. It was wildly successful upon publication, becoming a four-time #1 best-seller on Amazon in the science, education, STEM education, professional learning, and Science for Kids categories.

Students are also encouraged through a community leadership program formed in partnership with local businesses such as Amazon, Kroger, United Way of South Hampton Roads, and TowneBank.

All of these businesses have donated money not only to aid in the STEM education project but also to pay for tours and field trips to the African American History and Heritage Museum in Washington, D.C.

Townebank and United Way of South Hampton Roads have both donated $25,000 and $92,000, respectively, to these efforts, and Amazon has even opened its new warehouse facility to students with the prospect of future internships being a possibility.

“Everybody is working towards the same goal of not only educating our children… but making sure that we have a tight-knit community that doesn’t allow racism and socioeconomic status to be the divider of our students,” Dr. Gordon says.

Campus Infrastructure and Prestigious Representation

Suffolk Public Schools also invest in infrastructure to create a conducive learning environment. Over the past three years, the district replaced all of its athletic equipment and made major upgrades to its facilities. This includes new tennis courts, tracks, basketball courts, and synthetic turf fields at all three high schools.

One of the biggest improvements certainly involves the plans to build a groundbreaking new middle school, which will replace John F. Kennedy Middle School—first constructed in 1965. The opening of the new school doors is scheduled for September 2026.

There has been approximately $53 million given by the Suffolk City Council toward this project, and an additional $15 million through state construction grants and $6.5 million in fund reallocations.

These infrastructure upgrades bear the same mark of strong community support that Suffolk displays within its curriculum.

Overall, these changes will become exemplary symbols of the district’s commitment to world-class facilities.

However, it’s not just the buildings that show the world-class nature of Suffolk Public Schools. It’s also the exclusive and high-impact deals that they manage to secure for themselves.

At first glance, it becomes glaringly obvious that the extracurricular representation within the Suffolk Public School District is leagues above that of others. The district is partnered with a local Nike affiliate, BSN Sports, and through that connection, it has managed to secure a contract that even college institutions would jump through hoops for.

“I’m really big on students participating in extracurricular activities,” Dr. Gordon begins, “the Nike deal we have is better than a lot of Division I Nike deals.” What makes the Suffolk-Nike partnership so special is that it is applied at all levels. From elementary to middle to high school, students and staff all wear athletic apparel adorned with that all too iconic “swoosh” Nike is known for.

This culture of high-value partnerships synergizes extremely well for both sides of the equation—students and teachers get first-rate support, and the companies get to see their logos and slogans advertised all over the parts of the community where the Suffolk Public School Division is located. That includes sporting and band events and even school board meetings.

Dr. Gordon captures the sentiment quite nicely, saying, “When people see that Suffolk Public Schools have unique partnerships with Nike, Pepsi, and Townebank here locally, that lets [them] know that this is world-class.”

When all of this is coupled with Dr. Gordon and other staff members’ active engagement through Facebook Lives and social media, the district’s ability to tell its own story is even further amplified.

Suffolk Public School District - Suffolk, VirginiaCultivating Leadership and Career Opportunities

While students are well cared for, the same is also true for teachers, as the district is very supportive of their career advancement. The foundation of that support lies in collaborative cohorts with local universities.

“We just finished up an Administration and Supervision cohort with the University of Virginia… [and] we just started one with Old Dominion University,” Dr. Gordon says, hinting at the upcoming likelihood of Doctoral cohorts becoming available between Old Dominion and Virginia Tech.

The relationship with Old Dominion stands out especially. This year, Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education and Professional Studies (DCEPS) and Suffolk Public Schools have collaborated to initiate the Aspiring Leadership Cohort. This partnership is designed with a singular focus: to prepare SPS educators for leadership roles within the city’s school division.

The SPS leadership, specifically Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III and Chief of Schools Dr. Stenette Byrd III, have been instrumental in tailoring this program to the needs of their school district.

Dr. Maggie Barber, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Assessment in the DCEPS, highlights that “This program is a true collaboration that bridges the knowledge and expertise of both Suffolk Public Schools and ODU, and that responds to the specific context and priorities of Suffolk.”

Participants in this program are professionals being groomed for significant roles, such as principals, assistant principals, lead teachers, and instructional coaches.

The program’s structure allows for an in-depth understanding of the educational landscape, empowering participants with the skills and knowledge to lead effectively in their respective roles.

This emphasis on career opportunity is something that students also get to experience, as the district maintains a strong relationship with Camp Community College to allow students the chance to take dual enrollment courses to earn accreditation towards an Associate’s Degree. Innovative instructional programs are taken a step further with a dedicated specialty center for students at Lakeland High School—The Center for Performing or Production Arts. Here, students can pursue dual enrollment credits that focus more on the production side of the fine performing arts.

“We’re trying to show the kids that you can actually make more money behind the camera than you can in front of the camera,” Dr. Gordon explains. The center was inspired by the success of an early partnership the district had developed with Pharrell Williams, as well as the Yellow Program led by Dr. Joleen Neighbours, Coordinator of Fine Performing Arts.

Aspirations of Continued Excellence

With this level of a multi-faceted effort poured into the Suffolk Public School District, it’s no surprise that its resulting divisional achievements have been nothing short of brilliant.

As an institution, it is currently ranked 5th in the state for highest growth rate for student achievement. Adding to that, Suffolk Public Schools currently has 95% of its schools accredited, with plans to achieve 100% in the near future. The school division also has a National Blue Ribbon School for Excellence in Northern Shores Elementary School.

Thanks to its uniquely high-profile promotional efforts, the district’s community engagement team has also been officially recognized by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).

EVERFI also recognized the district as a Distinguished School Division, and even Dr. Gordon himself was named 2022 Superintendent to Watch by the NSPRA.

The Suffolk Public School District emerges as a community anchor. “People want to be associated with something successful,” Dr. Gordon explains, “and when they see the great things happening… that’s [what] really adds credence to the overall message.”

And the message is clear: Suffolk’s innovation will continue to set a standard for academic excellence that reverberates far beyond the classroom.

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Suffolk Public School District

What: A premier educational institution committed to academic excellence, diversity, and community engagement.

Where: Suffolk, Virginia



Darden College of Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University –

Nestled in Norfolk, Virginia, the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies is part of Old Dominion University, an esteemed R1 research institution. We are committed to inclusivity and high academic standards, and we aim to nurture future leaders across our programs, ranging from innovative teacher education to diverse professional studies.


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