In the mid-1990’s, Gunston attempted a rare feat, becoming a co-ed day school after decades as an all-girls boarding school.
The Gunston Farm School: 1910-1950’s
In response to the disabling effects of polio on their daughter Emilie, and their refusal to accept that she receive anything but the highest quality education, The Gunston Farm School was founded in 1911 by Sam and Mary Middleton on their farm along the Corsica River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Middleton’s held a strong belief in rigorous academics, coupled with the development of character as the two essential elements of a child’s education. In addition, during its early years, Gunston placed a great deal of emphasis on the communal aspects of living and learning together, and the traditional curriculum focused on reading, writing, geography, and arithmetic. Annual Shakespeare plays were a feature of campus life. French, the language of diplomacy, was considered an essential subject, and each year the students would present plays in French at holiday time and at graduation.
The athletics program was almost exclusively focused on horseback riding, and this activity was considered crucial to the development of important character traits. As Sam Middleton was known to say: “One always re-mounts after being thrown by one’s pony or horse, no matter what the damage incurred in the fall.” Students were responsible for the upkeep of “The Big House” (the current day Middleton House), and all students were responsible for helping to maintain the facilities and grounds in good working order.
When Samuel Middleton died in 1929, his wife Mary took over as sole Headmistress. A formidable woman with exacting standards, “Aunt Mary” (as she was known to all) led the school for the next 35 years, developing Gunston from small tutorial school into one of the renowned girls boarding schools on the East Coast. According to one alum: “The pedagogical approach was firmly structured, and exposure alone to the subjects was not an acceptable substitute for a thorough familiarity with and learning them. As a result, the general conversation of the school included frequent reference to classical thought and historical events.” Under Aunt Mary’s guidance the ethos of teaching the whole child was firmly embedded into the school’s culture. Another alumna wrote about Aunt Mary: “Mary Middleton was not a woman who expected accolades. She was a doer, not a talker. She had character and backbone. She was bold and formidable. She was a fighter and a peacemaker, a diplomat when necessary.”
The Gunston School for Girls: 1950’s-1990’s
Gunston became an all-girls school in the 1950’s. When Aunt Mary formally retired in 1964 after more than five decades of leadership, the school’s Headship passed briefly to Mrs. Okie before she was succeeded by long-serving Headmaster Paul Long, whose tenure lasted nearly two decades. Under Long’s leadership, the school experienced significant growth in terms of enrollment, physical plant, and academic reputation. Dormitories and a dining hall in the Brick Building which had been started under Mrs. Okie were expanded as enrollment grew, as talented young women from around the nation were attracted to the school’s warm environment, strong academic program, and emphasis on riding.
During his tenure, Mr. Long also inaugurated some of the school’s most cherished traditions, among them the dramatics surrounding the yearbook delivery and Green and White Day. Thus, each year the yearbooks are delivered by a different and unique means, once delivered by airplane, once by fire truck, and once even by parachute. Green and White Day is a twice-yearly event where the student body is divided into Green and White teams to compete in athletic and academic games in pursuit of a cherished silver cup. Once a community member is appointed to the Green or White team, they, along with any future family member, remains on that team until the end of time.
The 1960’s saw Gunston receive its designation by the State of Maryland as a certified secondary school, and the 1970’s and 1980’s saw continued facilities growth. In 1971, as a result of its new, more encompassing mission, the Long Academic Building, with modern classrooms and lab space, was built. At this time Gunston School was also fully accredited by MSACSS and NAIS. In 1980, the Blackwood—Duffey Library and Auditorium were added to Brick Building, and in 1982 the Vest Fine Arts wing was added to the Academic building. Finally, in 1989 under then Headmaster J. Temple Blackwood, the construction of the Field House was completed, thus allowing the significant expansion of Gunston School’s athletic programming.
Gunston Day School: 1995-2011
In 1991, with Peter “Stick” Sturtevant, Jr. serving as Headmaster, Gunston’s era as an all-girls boarding school came to a close. In response to a nationwide decline in single-sex education and the growing population on the Eastern Shore, Gunston was reincorporated as a co-educational day school. Since its transition to a day school, enrollment has boomed, and the school now draws students from six Maryland counties and Delaware. During Sturtevant’s time at Gunston, the school began its renowned Bay Studies program devoted to experiential learning within the Chesapeake Bay region.
The first decade of the 21st century saw the school continue to grow in enrollment and reputation under the leadership of Mr. Jeffrey Woodworth. Woodworth oversaw the renovation of the Middleton House, the original school building used by Sam and Mary Middleton, which had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Its refurbishment and remodeling was completed in 2007 and the building once again takes a central place in the school as the Admissions and Administration building. Woodworth also guided the school through an extended period of financial stability, added a crew program, and began Gunston’s international student recruitment effort that brings talented students from Europe and Asia to study on Gunston’s campus. Woodworth passed away tragically in 2009, and the crew shell “Jeffrey C. Woodworth” is named in his honor.
Mrs. Christie Grabis, longtime Assistant Head of School, served as Interim Headmaster in 2009-2010, and in July of 2010, Mr. John A. Lewis, IV was installed as Gunston’s 8th Headmaster. In 2010-2011, Gunston celebrated its Centennial with a comprehensive series of alumni and community events, and begins the planning process for the school’s second century. At the end of the school’s centennial year, Gunston said goodbye to Preston (“Tony”) and Sarah Everdell, whose combined years of teaching at Gunston spanned seven decades, and whose steadfast presence and superior teaching impacted generations of Gunston students. Also in 2011, the school completed its Master Facilities Plan, and was certified by the State of Maryland as a Maryland Green School.
The Gunston School: August 2011-2019
In August of 2011, Gunston Day School was reincorporated as “The Gunston School.” Having been the Gunston Farm School, The Gunston School for Girls, and for the last fifteen years, Gunston Day School, the school decided it was time to unify the school’s hundred-year identity under the word beloved by all those who have studied here: Gunston. As former Headmaster Stick Sturtevant noted at the celebration honoring the career of long-time teachers Tony and Sarah Everdell, “The word ‘Day’ in our school’s name was always meant to be temporary,” and he argued that the term was needed during Gunston’s transitional years in the mid-90’s when we were still universally recognized as a girls’ boarding school. Yet as that the school’s identity and reputation have evolved both regionally and nationally, the name change sought to embrace the entire arc of its history as a farm school, a boarding school, and a day school.
As we move through the second decade of the 21st Century and our second century as a school, our campus continues to be a dynamic place with a strong focus on each individual student. The school’s mission was rewritten in 2012 to emphasize the importance of global and environmental learning; our enrollment now tops 180 students; our rowing program is receiving national recognition; the school now has a new Gunston Tennis Center—a six-court, USTA-designed facility, and a first-class waterfront complex that includes a restored “living” shoreline and the spectacular Molly Dock.
Perhaps most significantly, the Gunston community recently came together to plan and execute the largest capital campaign in school history. Known as the The Second Century Campaign, the school raised over $4 million to substantially enhance the school’s core teaching and learning facilities. In 2012, the fully renovated Long Academic Building was rededicated, and in 2013, the building formerly known as “Brick” was rededicated as Everdell Hall, in honor of legendary teaching couple Tony and Sarah Everdell. This state-of-the-art and energy-efficient facility now houses three extraordinary new spaces: The Alice Ryan Library, the Susie Konkel Atrium and Student Center, and The Vest Fine Arts Center, housing both visual and digital arts.
In 2015, the school’s strategic plan launched a bold institutional goal: to become a regional and national leader in environmental teaching and learning. Since that time, the school has enhanced the Bay Studies program, created professional development courses for educators, acquired 3.5 additional acres of campus property, in 2018, Gunston launched the Chesapeake Watershed Semester—an innovative educational program that immerses students in the study of environmental science and public policy. Gunston’s environmental education office is now housed on the second floor of Heron House, the former Headmaster’s Residence that in 2018 was transformed into both a waterfront athletic and environmental education center.
If Samuel and Mary Middleton were to drive up the tree-lined Gunston Road today, they might well be astounded by the size and diversity of the student body, the breadth of the school’s athletics program, the absence of horses, and the prevalence of computers and other technologies. However, the physical campus has retained its beauty, and they would certainly recognize in the school’s culture the original principles of the school’s founding: academic and character education taught by dedicated teachers in a format devoted to preparing the whole child to serve as scholars, citizens, and leaders in our world.
Thus, the 21st Century Gunston experience remains deeply rooted in the 20th Century Gunston experience one best captured by our alumnus William Hafer (Class of 1928): “Translated into modern psychological terminology, the credo of Gunston is to attain self-actualization, to fulfill one’s highest potential. And although the remarkable couple who gave life to Gunston School no longer guide it, their philosophy that one’s reach should always exceed one’s grasp remains part of the modern Gunston experience, which continues to protect its students from complacency and self-satisfaction and helps them to distinguish dross from true gold.”
2020 - Phased Reopening
The Gunston School: 2020
It started with an email forward. “Have you heard of this new virus that causes pneumonia?” from Gunston’s Head of School John Lewis to the school’s senior leadership team on January 19, 2020. After the confirmation of the first case in the USA on January 20, Gunston sent out their first health notice about the virus that would later become known universally as COVID-19. Life went on. Second-quarter honor roll grades were announced. The school celebrated Global Awareness Day and invited admitted students and their families to celebrate on Friday, February 28. Meanwhile, the school’s leadership team remained on high alert, following news of COVID-19 closely and consulting with state and national associations, peer institutions and the local health department, and on Sunday, March 1, Lewis called an emergency meeting with senior staff.
“This virus is going to spread. Extended school closure will happen, and Gunston needs to be prepared,” Lewis announced to the group. And then they got to work.
On Saturday, March 7, Gunston’s spring break vacation had officially started, and Mr. Lewis made the difficult decision to cancel a student educational trip to South Africa. On Thursday, March 12, Gunston advised students and parents that spring break would be extended by a full week to allow the leadership team and faculty time to finalize preparations for the delivery of remote instruction.
Two hours later, Governor Hogan made an announcement along with State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon that all Maryland public schools would be closed through March 27. The Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools recommended that member schools follow this directive. On Friday, March 20, after three intense days of faculty training, Gunston launched a “test run” of distance learning and by Monday, March 23, distance learning at Gunston was fully launched.
In consultation with our Health Advisory Team—Gunston's senior leadership team spent three months seeking pathways to balance the clear educational and psychological benefits of reopening campus with the maximization of health, safety, and welfare for the community.
With that in mind, and having reviewed plans with the Queen Anne’s Department of Health, Gunston moved forward with a Phased Reopening in September of 2020. We began by inviting our new 9th graders to campus and were able to offer a modified Orientation and Embarkation. Tenth through 12th grade students began the academic year via distance learning and re-entered the campus in phases starting in late September.
2021 - Present Day
The Gunston School: 2021 - Present Day
In June 2021, The Gunston School’s Board of Trustees approved a Facilities Master Plan that aims to expand the school’s current facilities and programming to accommodate robust enrollment growth. The plan includes a STEM Center and Environmental Field Station to support the school’s dynamic science, math, robotics, and environmental programming, as well as a new Athletics Center and Performing Arts Center. Additional upgrades include expanded and upgraded athletic fields, the development of a central campus promenade, as well as parking improvements.
“Our trustees have approved a plan that is equally ambitious and creative,” shared Head of School, John Lewis, “and the plan aims to align the school’s facilities with our needs and strengths, as well as our robust enrollment growth, which has grown nearly 80% since 2010. Our hope is to create one of the premier independent school campuses on the East Coast, anchored by our 35-acres of waterfront property.”
Led by the highly regarded architect Al Rubeling of JMT, the master planning process involved collaboration with every constituent group in the Gunston community — employees, parents, students, alumni, and community partners through surveys, focus groups, and thinking/visioning exercises.
READ MORE ABOUT FACILITIES MASTER PLAN
In December of 2022, the school has acquired 25-acres of property adjacent to the campus from the estate of Carter (Middleton) Bond. Bond was the granddaughter of the school’s founders, Samuel and Mary Middleton, and she passed away peacefully at the age of 91 in early 2022. The acquisition, which closed on November 22, will grow the campus footprint by 70% from 35 to 60 acres. The newly-acquired parcels substantially extend the eastern edge of the school’s campus, and include the forested and farm field areas behind The Gunston Tennis Center and the school’s athletic fields.
READ MORE: Gunston Campus Expands to 60 acres with Land Acquisition