Russell Shaw: From Where I Stand

Russell Shaw
All of the stars were aligned. We would celebrate Georgetown Day School’s 75th anniversary in our first-ever PK–12 unified campus, a year punctuated by an array of firsts—our first Country Market Day in Tenleytown! Our first High School musical attended by Lower School and Middle School students who only need to walk across the street to be in the audience! Our first sports season with an expanded fan section to accommodate our younger students! The ribbon cutting would bring together hundreds—or even thousands—of community members, past and present. Together we would take pride in our School’s new home, marveling at the warm, expansive lobby, the cozy, brightly furnished library, the playground’s natural wood and magnificent towers. We had it all figured out.
And then, COVID. A pandemic which demanded that we remove the new, collaborative furniture from classrooms and replace it with single desks and chairs, arrayed in rows in order to accommodate distancing requirements and reductions in classroom density.
Instead of lunch in our state of the art dining facility, students would eat in the parking garage, and later, their classrooms, sitting silently at their desks.
Instead of magnificent papier-mache art projects to decorate our beautiful new stairwells, there would be hand sanitizer. Lots and lots of hand sanitizer.

Three heads of school: Russell Shaw, Gladys Stern, and Peter Branch

Second head of school Edith Nash

Founding head of school Aggie O'Neil

Somewhere Aggie, Edith, Gladys, and Peter were laughing—at least that’s how I imagined it. For the first time in Georgetown Day School history, we were prepared to open a PK–12 school on a single campus. I imagine my four head of school predecessors laughing to themselves because while our new building is indeed spectacular, they know that GDS has never been about its facilities. GDS is GDS because of the people—the relationships, the magic that manifests when individuals with different life stories are brought together to form community. Or, as GDS alum and former teacher Julia Blount ’08 wrote in a recent essay about GDS, quoting her grandmother who was also a teacher, “No brick ever educated a child.”

Whether as a school of 12 students in a downtown rowhouse in 1945, as our first high school in a former hardware store in 1971, or as a contemporary school of 1,075 on a single campus in Tenleytown, our institution’s “special sauce” resides in the interactions between community members and the purposeful engagement of those community members both within and beyond our School’s literal and metaphorical walls.

As we celebrate 75 years and set forth on our next 75, we can take comfort in the knowledge that no matter GDS’s physical future, our mission will reside in brilliant teachers, joyful and curious students, passionate alumni, and a purpose that transcends buildings and generations. Here’s to the next 75. Happy Birthday, GDS.

Russell Shaw, Head of School
Russell Shaw
Head of School