School History

Renaissance School started as an idea shared by a group of middle school parents: to create a high school that would provide a small, academically rich, interdisciplinary learning environment. This group of parents met with Nancy Knorr, then the financial manager of Village School (an all-girls middle school located in Charlottesville, Virginia), to begin the process of turning the idea into a reality.

In 1997 Nancy Knorr formed the exploratory committee that would eventually lead to the establishment of Renaissance School.  Ms. Knorr recruited Lou Tanner to serve as the school’s first teacher, and Patterson Cunningham to serve as the founding Head of School.  Ms. Knorr worked tirelessly and never faltered in her commitment to the idea of Renaissance School. It was Ms. Knorr’s efforts that secured the grant that lead to Renaissance School’s startup funding.  

In 1999, Renaissance School open its doors on the downtown mall to the inaugural group of ninth and tenth grade students.  

In 2007 Renaissance School moved to their current location on Historic Court Square—just two blocks from the first school location.  In 2009, following the retirement of Ms. Cunningham, Renaissance School welcomed its second Head of School, Sara C Johnson. Under Ms. Johnson’s tenure, Renaissance School prioritized curriculum development, leading to wonderful collaborations with subject area teachers. Over time, the school developed a student-centered curriculum that was interdisciplinary in nature with an emphasis on differentiated and experiential teaching.

During this process, Renaissance School’s particular strength emerged in teaching a very unique and specific population: high ability students. High ability was defined by strengths, talent, and potential in a field that exceeded a standard level. This included pre-professional athletes, highly trained arts students, and academically advanced students.

In 2013 Renaissance School developed a Community Partners Program, which opened up wider opportunities for its students. Today, Renaissance School partners with ACAC Fitness and Wellness, Light House Studios, Music Resource Center, and the University of Virginia, just to name a few. Additionally, Renaissance School juniors and seniors participate in the UVA Community Scholars Program, allowing them to earn college credit while attending courses on the University’s campus. We also regularly collaborate with specific departments including the Darden School of Business, which has partnered with our Micro MBA program; and the Genetic Engineering Department, which was key in the formation of our Synthetic Biology program.

Today, Renaissance School is one of only 32 high schools in the nation with an established genetic engineering program, and the only school in the country that regularly partners with research institutes such as MIT, Open BioLabs, and UVA to conduct classroom research. We are the only high school to have a CFA Charterholder teaching finance and business. We are the Niche #1 High School for the Arts in Virginia, and Central Virginia’s only high school specifically dedicated to teaching high ability students in the arts, sciences, and humanities.