Alexandria County Day School founder Joan C. Barton dies at 88

Alexandria County Day School founder Joan C. Barton dies at 88
Joan Barton, the first principal of ACDS, with one of the first graduating classes from Alexandria Country Day School. Circa 1984.

By Denise Dunbar |

Joan C. Barton died Sept. 3 at Fairfax Inova Hospital following a stroke. She was 88.

Best known for helping found Alexandria Country Day School in a church basement in 1983, Barton served as the school’s first principal until her retirement in 1996.

In 1991, the school purchased St. Mary’s Academy across Russell Road, where it has remained since.

Former students, parents and teachers all remembered lifelong educator and teacher Barton best for the nurturing atmosphere she created at Alexandria County Day.

“Dr. Barton was an innovative educator and instilled a love of learning in me,” said graduate Winnie Harrington Robinson. “She knew how to bring out the best in her students and nurtured the whole person.”

Joan Barton with longtime school teachers at their retirement celebration in June. Pictured L to R: Barton, Suzy Tacktill, Sherry Ward, Sally Laha and current school
principal Scott Baytosh (Courtesy Photo)

Suzy Tacktill knew Barton as an Alexandria County Day parent, then spent almost 30 years on staff in a variety of roles, most notably as the school’s art teacher. Tacktill sought out the school for her son because of its small size and nurturing atmosphere.

“She left a legacy with people. She knew and worked with compassion, deep thought and character,” Tacktill said. “A jar of candy was always on her desk. Sometimes she had to be the ‘heavy’ but she always did so with a touch of sweet. She set the tone for what the school has become. That tone of caring and nurturing began with Joan and stayed.”

Barton hired Jim Girard in 1989 and he remains at the school as its longest-tenured employee. He credits Barton’s personal touch for the special atmosphere at the school.

“I remember walking into what really didn’t look like a school to me and having an interview with her,” Girard said. “It was clear to me that her professionalism and love of learning was infectious. How much she cared about the school. The connections she made. I think she really took advantage of ACDS being small. She knew every kid. Knew their names, their stories. She could laugh with them. You realize how special an atmosphere it was.”

Alexandria County Day Principal Scott Baytosh touted Barton’s legacy.
“Joan’s role in establishing Alexandria County Day cannot be overestimated,” Baytosh said in a statement. “Joan’s understanding of children, knowledge of education and commitment
to helping children become confident, creative and engaged learners shaped the
culture of ACDS and inspires us today.”

Harrington cited the traditions at the school she enjoyed as a student and Barton’s legacy.

“Among the beloved traditions at ACDS under her leadership were the school plays, which included cameos by Dr. Barton herself,” Harrington said. “She has left the ACDS community an exceptional legacy in the school she led and in the students she taught.”

Joan Colpoys Barton was born in Massachusetts on June 25, 1929. She was married to Col. Robert Barton for 42 years, with whom she had three sons. She is survived by son Kenneth and his wife Lisa of Reston, Eric of Annandale and Robert and his wife Cathy of Leesburg. She is the sister of the late Anne Bartley and Francis and John Colpoys.

Arrangements will be at a later date for a memorial mass at Good Shepherd Catholic Church and a chapel service and interment at Arlington National Cemetery.