The School Board of the City of Virginia Beach voted to name Dr. Donald Robertson Jr. as superintendent at its meeting Jan. 23. A native of Hampton Roads, Dr. Robertson began his career as a math teacher with Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) in 1988 and progressed in leadership roles including assistant principal of Bayside High School, principal of Salem High School, chief strategy and innovation officer, chief schools officer, chief of staff and acting superintendent.
As the 20th century approached, the spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the shore of Virginia was a quiet, sleepy area dominated by a Coast Guard Station and hunt club. The 1880s brought a train line into the beach area. In 1882, the Virginia Beach Hotel (later renamed Princess Anne Hotel) opened. A beach resort was born! Within 20 years, the oceanfront area of Virginia Beach had an increasing number of winter residents. Thus creating a need and desire to educate the children in this area.
A poll was taken by Mrs. Laura Washington and found that there were 36 school age children in the area. So in 1904, Mrs. Washington along with Mrs. Adele O’Conner began classes for 40 children in two upstairs rooms of the Driftwood Cottage (11th and 12th Street at the oceanfront). The next year the students moved to rooms above the city hall and jail located on 14th Street.
In March 1906, the town of Virginia Beach received its charter from the Virginia Assembly. Within months, the town council voted to fund a public school. In September 1913, students moved into a brand new two-story brick building known as the Free Public School. The school building was located at 524 15th Street. It cost $14,000 and housed 125 students in grades 1-7. The building had no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing. Students included the children of Virginia Beach’s Mayor B.P. Holland.
Sometime after 1919, the school was renamed after Willoughby Talbot Cooke, a Virginia Beach School Board member and retired Norfolk businessman. Mr. Cooke had a great love of children and took an avid interest in the oceanfront school. During his time on the school board many improvements were made to the school, including the installation of indoor plumbing.
Because there was no lunchroom in the school building, neighborhood mothers took turns preparing a daily pot of soup and sandwiches that was delivered to the school by 7th grade students in the child’s wagon. An auditorium and small lunchroom were finally added in 1927. Electricity was installed in 1928. During the 1930s and 1940s some students rode an electric rail bus (known as the Green Hornet) to the 17th Street station and walked two blocks to Cooke School.
Additions were made to the building in 1946 and 1954. In 1962, all of the 1912 building was demolished and a new building begun. A new gymnasium was added in 1991. At the end of the 1997-98 school year the “old” Cooke School was torn down (the gymnasium remained) and Cooke students moved to the old Linkhorn School building for the 1998-99 school year. In 2000, the “new” Cooke opened at the same 15th Street site. The new building cost almost $9 million to build and houses 550 + students in grades K-5. This building is a state-of-the-art building that supports a curriculum that is fully integrated with technology.
It has been one century, since a group of students first gathered in a formal educational setting in an oceanfront cottage that was the beginning of W.T. Cooke Elementary School. Over the past 100 years we have proven our significance to the oceanfront community and to the education of children. The students, faculty and staff of Cooke Elementary School are excited to be leading the way into a new century, the 21st century, where education of children will continue to be our number one priority. Through the years many things have changed, but the one thing that will never change will be the love and dedication that the faculty and staff of W.T. Cooke School has for the students, of our city, that they have been educating for over 100 years.