REVIEW: A. David Rutstein’s ‘A History of Searles High School’ parallels challenges of educational system

Those of you who are lifelong residents may find this book interesting, especially if you had the honor to attend this great school.

Berkshire County is home to local authors who have written books that have captured the attention not only those of us who reside here, but out-of-towners, as well. I believe that A. David Rutstein should be welcomed to this special group of writers after reading his first book, “A History of Searles High School 1898-1967, Great Barrington, Massachusetts,” a historical account of the former Searles High School in Great Barrington. I was easily impressed with the book. In fact, I asked David if I might write a review of his work so others might not be deprived about learning more about the history of Great Barrington.

As an adjunct professor and peer reviewer of professional journals, I viewed this task seriously, knowing that I only look for the highest standards in an author’s work. Overall, the book provides a significant historical account of not only what was happening locally, but also within the backdrop of national events that influenced education in rural USA such as Great Barrington. It was interesting to learn how the school system progressed and its struggles that eventually paid off to become a highly attended school known for providing top-rated education. David pointed out that some of the challenges back then were similar to those experienced today in Great Barrington’s educational system — an interesting parallel to learn more about in David’s book.

The Searles School in 1915. Image courtesy Great Barrington Historical Commission.

If you are from out of town or are a second-home resident, you might want to consider reading about Searles High School to learn more about the history of Great Barrington. Those of you who are lifelong residents may find this book interesting, especially if you had the honor to attend this great school. Certainly it will provide the opportunity to reminisce about youthful times! Furthermore, current residents may be entertained by the book, satisfying a curiosity about the abandoned Searles School building on Bridge Street and why it is was originally built and what happened behind closed doors from 1898 to 1967.

As such, David’s writing is clear and succinct. It is an easily read book that also provides several addenda in order to elaborate in more detail his historical research. There is even information regarding W.E.B. Du Bois and his experience with Searles.

The interior of Searles High School’s Kellogg Hall, circa 1898

Finally, David is a lifelong resident of Great Barrington. Although currently retired, he keeps busy as a public speaker on topics related to American history and local history, an area he knows well because of several years teaching history to Berkshire County students. David is also past president and current member of the Great Barrington Historical Society, which influenced him to research and write about Searles School. In addition, David is an active member of the Claire Teague Senior Center, serving as chair of the Council on Aging and facilitating a successful weekly news and views group.

I highly recommend David’s book and, if he were one of my students, he would receive an A-plus.