A last-minute possible name for the new school under construction at the Reed Elementary School site did not go over well with Arlington School Board members.
Members of the Reed School naming committee presented their top two choices, Westover Village Elementary School followed by Cardinal Elementary School, during the regular school board meeting last night (Thursday).
Westover Village is a new addition borne from feedback the committee received in a survey, through NextDoor and neighborhood email lists. Cardinal was one of five names the committee had initially planned to choose from — the others being Compass, Exploration, Kaleidoscope and Passport.
“The Westover name recognition came from the hope that this school would be a community-based school and a neighborhood school,” McKinley Elementary Assistant Principal Gina Miller said.
The committee decided to push past the possible association with Westover Plantation, which was owned by William Byrd II, who founded the City of Richmond and was noted for the often cruel treatment of enslaved people on the plantation.
“The committee felt naming it Westover Village alleviated the concern of Westover due to concerns of connection to the plantation,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.
Arlington School Board members, however, disagreed. They condemned using the name Westover for the new school at the Reed site — even with “Village” tacked on, the name still bears the association with Westover Plantation, they said.
“I do understand that the community is so excited to have a community school once again,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady said. “With that fresh start, however, I think it’s imperative that we look at our values, our push to ensure that we have equity, that we embrace all students, that they feel safe and valued and that we do not continue to raise up the name of institutions that built their success on the backs of people of color.”
Arlington has “far too many examples” of holding onto historical references that need to be left in the past, she said.
“The best way to learn from this history is to not continue to allow it to live in the names of our institutions, especially the names of our schools, where students are meant to learn,” she said.
Board members Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy and Board Vice-Chair Barbara Kanninen raised similar concerns and voiced their support for the name Cardinal. They are slated to vote on the name on Thursday, April 8.
Diaz-Torres recalled the Wakefield High School students who alleged racist behavior on the football field less than three weeks ago.
“I understand the rationale conceptually of adding the word Village to separate the connotation with the Westover plantation but that doesn’t erase the fact that Westover would be at the front of the name,” she said.
Diaz-Torres added that she is “disheartened that members of civic associations decided to encourage rejecting the preference of 1,100 community members” over the 73 who suggested Westover in the comment section of the survey.
The new school at 1644 N. McKinley Road will open this fall and will accommodate 725 students. Most of the students will move from McKinley Elementary School, with others moving from Tuckahoe Elementary School.
McKinley was also mentioned as an alternative name for the school. According to responses to a survey of the McKinley school community, most wanted to keep the McKinley name, said PTA representative Jon Judah.
“The community’s preference for the name was linked to brand and culture of the school, not so much the president which we think it’s named after,” he said.
But both the name McKinley, like the site’s current name (Reed), are names of people. Following on the heels of renaming the Key site school as Innovation Elementary, the naming committee has sought to avoid naming the school after people.
President William McKinley is associated with imperialist policies that hurt Indigenous community members, such as buying the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico and annexing Hawaii.
Dr. Walter Reed was an Army physician who studied and treated yellow fever. According to the survey, the name was suggested in the comments section 133 times.
Chart (below) via Arlington Public Schools