When they return from their own summer vacation early next month, Arlington School Board members are expected to set in motion plans to name two schools and potentially rename two others.
School Board members on Sept. 6 are slated to appoint naming-committee members for a new building on Wilson Boulevard (to house the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs) and the rebuilt Stratford building (to become a neighborhood middle school after the Woodlawn and Stratford programs depart for the Wilson site).
Also set for a potential name change will be Patrick Henry Elementary School, whose student body next year will be moved en masse to the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School nearby. The Patrick Henry building will be converted to a Montessori program, housing students being moved in from Drew Model School.
As a result, there also will be consideration of a new name for Drew, but given the ties of its namesake – pioneering physician Charles Drew (1904-50) – to the Nauck community where the school sits, it’s unlikely his name will be removed.
“Patrick Henry,” however, may be a goner, given the School Board’s recent hostility to names, like that of Robert E. Lee, that don’t jibe with their political sensibilities.
Henry (1736-99) was a two-time governor of Virginia but is better known as a figure in before and during the Revolutionary War. Hurting Henry’s chances of staying on the school’s nameplate: He had no ties to the local area and was a slaveowner.
“Wilson” may prove a challenge to school leaders as they navigate what has become a largely self-inflicted minefield over which historical figures with cloudy backgrounds deserve ongoing recognition, and which should be relegated to the past.
The original school on the Rosslyn site, currently seeing construction of a new H-B Woodlawn, was known as Fort Myer Heights Elementary, but it later was renamed in honor of Virginia native President Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson (1856-1924) during his presidency often traveled to the area to play golf at Washington Golf & Country Club (which later relocated to its current location north of Ballston). After a series of strokes largely incapacitated him, the president would be driven through what was then largely undeveloped portions of Arlington to boost his spirits.
Wilson is noted for promulgating the Fourteen Points that helped set in motion self-government movements in the aftermath of World War I. But he also held decidedly antebellum views on race and gender, which might make him anathema to Democrats on the modern-day School Board.
(The Arlington County Democratic Committee recently dropped the names of two other icons of its party – Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson – from its annual fund-raising dinner, changing the event from the “Jefferson-Jackson Dinner” to the “Blue Victory Dinner.”)
Any name-change proposals will play out under the cloud of community controversy brought about when School Board members earlier this year abandoned their own timetable and fast-tracked a name change for Washington-Lee High School. Board members are expected to appoint a name-change committee for that school in late September or October, although any effort to formalize a name change could still be stymied by legal action or General Assembly intervention.