GDS to Put History Book on Sale After Alumni Call for Access

The 160-page book commemorating GDS’ 75th anniversary. Photo by Nick von Hindenburg.

Members of the GDS alumni Facebook group raised objections this month to the limited distribution of a school history book produced by former associate head of school Kevin Barr. The volume, created to commemorate the school’s 75th anniversary in 2020, had reached few readers since a small run of copies was printed last year.

“Ludicrous that the book is not widely available,” one alumnus commented. “Should be required reading for every student, administrator and teacher.” Another responded, “The idea that it would be used as a gift to big donors was particularly galling.” In one exchange, alumni discussed intentions to “rabble rouse” so administrators might make the book accessible to them.

The discussion, set off by a Jan. 19 post sharing an Augur Bit profile of Barr that had been published online the week before, involved comments by over two dozen members of the private Facebook group, screenshots of which were shared with the Bit. Many of the commenters voiced a desire for copies of the little-seen book, along with puzzlement about the school’s approach to it. Two alumni told the Bit they emailed Head of School Russell Shaw with their concerns.

Within a week of the Facebook conversation, administrators decided to make the book, 75 Years at Georgetown Day School, available for sale online, members of the advancement office said. An online order form is expected to open in the coming days, Correy Hudson, the director of alumni engagement, told the Bit.

Alison Grasheim, the director of communications and interim director of external affairs, said the book will be priced at $30, plus $5 for shipping, and will be advertised in upcoming email newsletters to alumni, parents, teachers and high school students.

[UPDATE: GDS has made the 75th anniversary commemorative history book available to order online and advertised it in newsletters to alumni and current community members.]

Barr devotes about one-third of the 160-page volume to the story of several of GDS’ founding figures. Then come 26 essays contributed by former students and faculty members about their memories from GDS. Barr retired in 2020 after working at the school for 43 years but returned last spring semester to serve in a part-time role focused mainly on hiring.

In interviews with the Bit this fall and winter, Barr cast the 75th anniversary book as a tool that community members, and especially teachers, should use to better acquaint themselves with GDS’ past—a crucial way, in his view, to avoid losing sight of its distinctive educational philosophy amid a spate of changes for the institution.

But last year, after the pandemic had shattered broader plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary, administrators ordered only about 200 hardback copies of the book. They did not announce the completed book to almost any students, parents or teachers, according to Grasheim, instead using it as a gift for donors and special visitors. Hudson told the Bit that administrators never planned to keep the book out of sight but, amid the pandemic’s disruptions, did not pay attention to publicizing it. 

“We’re happy to acknowledge that maybe we could have promoted it better,” Hudson said in an interview. “We accept that criticism, and we’re definitely looking to correct that.” Alison Grasheim, the director of communications and interim director of external affairs, said she was glad to see alumni more interested in the book than she had previously encountered or anticipated.

Hudson said that the book was promoted during the alumni reunion weekend last April. Grasheim said that, in her recollection, the book was only publicized at the check-in table for a brunch, on the Sunday of alumni weekend, honoring Gladys Stern, the former director (the position now called the head of school), who had died in November 2021. 

The copies had not been delivered before the brunch as Grasheim had hoped, she said, but the approximately 160 attendees were able to pre-order the book online as they entered. Not one did so. The school closed the order form down after the event, Hudson said. Administrators made no further effort to broadly market the book. 

Neither Grasheim nor Hudson knew how many of the original 200 copies remain in the advancement office’s hands. The office has begun to look into options for printing more copies if necessary, Grasheim said, including the possibility of a paperback format.

When emailed for comment on the plans to sell and market the book, Barr only suggested that releasing a free digital version could help disseminate the book’s contents.

“It’s a testament to just how much GDS is a part of who we are and the impact it had on all of us that we’ve had this vibrant conversation about the book,” Nick Jacobs ’90 wrote in a comment on Facebook, following over 50 other comments on the post. “Seems to me this in itself demonstrates why the book needs to be shared with everyone. It’s not just the origin story of the school but is is [sic] part of each of our own stories too.”

Longtime history teacher Sue Ikenberry, who initially posted the Barr profile to the Facebook group, was struck by the uncommonly large number of responses the post received. Ikenberry added that the 75th anniversary book, which she has yet to read but hopes to get, might be useful for incorporating the story of GDS’ early years into the freshman history course’s study of D.C. history.

A handful of students have looked at 75 Years at Georgetown Day School in the library or checked it out since the profile’s publication, according to the librarian, Rhona Campbell. The library received its two copies of the book after Campbell learned in an interview with the Bit that the book was printed.

Gabriela Tobal ’87, who contributed to the Facebook conversation and also emailed Shaw about the book, said that its limited distribution seemed at odds with GDS’ egalitarian values. “I want GDS to be like that fair, communal place that I remember,” Tobal said in an interview. “I feel that Kevin’s efforts should be honored in a way that is communal.”

Tobal, the vice president for business development at a biotech company in California, who was in Barr’s English class her freshman year, now intends to buy a copy of the book he assembled.

In a response to Tobal’s email that she shared with the Bit, Shaw wrote, “I’m so grateful to you for reaching out, for asking questions and, in true GDS tradition, for rabble-rousing. It is most welcome.” Shaw invited Tobal to visit campus if she comes to D.C., and to let him know so he can welcome her.

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