In 1965, young pastor Wilbur Kersey and his wife, Kitty, had been at Court Street Baptist Church for six years. At ages 30 and 28, they were parents to three children ranging in age from 9 months to 6 years old. Kitty and Wilbur became aware of two things: Court Street Baptist could use a ministry, a place to serve the downtown community and Portsmouth could use a quality kindergarten. Their oldest child, Barbara Leigh, had attended a kindergarten at a nearby church, but that program had closed. In 1965, kindergarten wasn’t offered in public schools. “What to do?” they wondered. “We’ll open a school!”
In the fall of that year, Kitty, along with two other women, Ann Doug Smith and Margaret Harrison, began to teach kindergarten; their original class included 13 students. Wilbur provided transportation for those who needed it by driving his own station wagon around town to pick up students. (This was well before the days of car seats and the back of Wilbur’s station wagon was often full of 5-year-olds headed to Court Street Academy.)
When a good idea lines up with God’s will, things flourish. Court Street Academy grew over the next few years and before long, satisfied parents were asking that elementary grades be added to the school. The Kerseys started adding grades, one per year, and by 1975, the school had grown to include 150 students in kindergarten through 4th grade.
During that same decade, Wilbur and Kitty had been very busy themselves, both eventually earning doctorates, hers in Early Childhood Education and his in Ministry. Financial necessity dictated that Kitty leave her post as kindergarten teacher at Court Street and take a job with Portsmouth Public Schools. Her passion for educating young children (and parents too) grew into a professional career which spanned more than four decades and earned her national recognition in her field. Until her retirement due to illness in 2015, Kitty (or “Mrs. Dr. Kersey”) stayed active as advisor to Court Street Academy, working with faculty and parents to facilitate an environment of positive
discipline and constructive learning for young minds.
While full-time pastoring, earning his own doctorate and driving a yellow school bus which replaced his station wagon for school transport, Dr. Wilbur Kersey remained the “boots on the ground” principal/administrator of Court Street Academy. By the early-mid 1980’s, the school occupied all of the classrooms in the church’s renovated educational building and had grown to 225 students in grades K - 8. Through the decades, children who had attended CSA grew up and sent their own children to their beloved school.
When it opened in 1965, Court Street Academy was one of the only options for kindergarten in the city. In the decades since, public schools opened kindergarten programs and other private Christian schools opened their doors. Under Dr. Kersey’s leadership, CSA prided itself on being an affordable private school option, staying true to its identity as a mission of the church.
Since 2000, competition with other school programs and lessening density in the downtown community created declining enrollments for most private schools. Mrs. Dr. Kersey’s illness necessitated that Dr. Kersey step down as principal of CSA in the fall of 2019. An advisory board was appointed that summer by the church’s Board of Deacons and tasked with the leadership and future direction for the school.
Nothing prepared a small private school like CSA for the challenges of a pandemic. School closure in March of 2020 necessitated a reduction in programs, and in the spring of 2020, the advisory board made the decision for Court Street Academy to “go back to our roots,” returning to a quality preschool program for children ages 3, 4 and 5. Founded on Mrs. Dr. Kersey’s Principles of Positive Discipline in a Christian learning environment, CSA will reopen in the fall of 2020 and will continue the Kerseys’ legacy of ministry in the downtown Portsmouth community.