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Founding and Early Years

In the summer of 2006, Mr. Steve Lee and Father Edward Hathaway began discussions about founding an independent high school that would serve families interested in a liberal arts and Catholic education for their children. Having recently been assigned as pastor at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Father Hathaway was struck by both the great number of young people in area parishes, and the fact that the closest Catholic high school was nearly an hour away.

At Mr. Lee's suggestion, Bart Beasley, a friend and businessman from California, volunteered to do a feasibility study for the project and to begin developing wider interest among families during the winter of 2006-2007. Based on the results of their research, Father Hathaway, Mr. Beasley, and Mr. Lee decided to form a board committing themselves to oversee the founding of a school in the fall of 2008. Patrick Keats joined the board in the spring of 2007. Joseph McPherson and Sharon Hickson became members several months later.

In the late spring of 2007, the Chelsea board hired the school’s founding headmaster, Mr. Jonathan Brand, and made the necessary preparations for the opening in 2008. The school's mission, philosophy, curriculum, and policies were developed. Faculty and staff were hired. Chelsea identified rented classroom space in the Human Life International building. The first students were recruited and admitted.

And in the Spring of 2008, the inaugural Chelsea Gala was held to raise funds, attracting 138 community members in support of the new school.

With the pieces now in place, Chelsea Academy opened its first school year in the fall of 2008 with thirty-seven students in grades six through nine. Five full-time, three part-time, and two staff members made up the faculty and staff.

The academic program proved to be rigorous and inspiring. Interscholastic sports teams were established for boys and girls each season. Students also participated in the choir. Houses and clubs met weekly. Mass was held every Friday. And the first year featured extracurricular activities that would later become Chelsea traditions: an all-school hike, a poetry recitation and music recital, a choir concert, a canoe trip, a spring play, and the second-annual spring gala.

Expansion and growth

Over the next three years, Chelsea added grades ten, eleven, and twelve and graduated its first class of seniors in 2012. Its enrollment increased to ninety students, and the school developed its academic program and extracurricular activities from the first year. Students played on middle school, junior varsity, and varsity sports teams in soccer, volleyball, and basketball; participated in science fairs, including the Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair at James Madison University; and performed in fall and spring plays. The school added three classrooms, including a new science lab, and welcomed two French students for extended stays.

From 2012-2016, Chelsea Academy grew to nearly 180 students in grades 4-12. Programs expanded accordingly, with academic, athletic, and artistic opportunities added for the growing student body.

With the departure of founding headmaster Mr. Brand in 2018, Chelsea saw two succeeding headmasters take the reins: Bernardine Clark and Felix Hernandez. Their tenure saw Chelsea students continue to matriculate and succeed, achieving admission to fine colleges and universities. 

the Shenandoah valley's k-12 catholic school

Now solidly into its second decade, Chelsea Academy is poised to institutionalize its rapid growth and create a sustainable school capable of forming students for generations to come.

December 2020 was a significant milestone in Chelsea's history as His Excellency Bishop Michael Burbidge, Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, granted canonical status to the school - a public recognition and approbation of Chelsea as an official Catholic school.

In 2021, the Board of Directors hired John M. DeJak as headmaster to lead Chelsea Academy in the next stage of the school’s growth. Ambitious goals were set for the 2021-2022 academic year, and Chelsea succeeded on many fronts:

  • Chelsea recruited and hired a top Chief Financial & Business Officer and a Director of the Lower School 
  • The curricular program was expanded to include grades K-3 beginning with the 2022-2023 academic year
  • The existing curriculum was reviewed and updated to achieve the twin aims of integration and cohesion 
  • The fine arts curriculum was expanded to include formal classes in schola and drama, and an all-school Schola Cantorum was established
  • More rigorous criteria was established for honors courses

In 2022, Chelsea completed the purchase of a new campus in the former Virginia International Academy building, providing a permanent home for the school for the first time. The new campus serves well the expansion of the school and provides much needed home athletic fields and a gymnasium for the Chelsea Knights athletic teams.

Perhaps most significantly, the new campus provides space for the recently-built St. Thomas More Chapel, allowing Chelsea to welcome the broader community to our school for Sunday Masses, and ensuring a home for the Blessed Sacrament at Chelsea Academy.

Currently, the Chelsea faculty is made up of twenty-five full-time and eleven part-time faculty and staff. Administrative positions have been both added and consolidated over the years. In addition to the Headmaster, the Administrative Team consists of: Chief Financial Officer, Dean of Students & Athletic Director, Dean of Lower School, Director of Advancement, Director of Admissions, Director of Facilities, and the Office Manager.