Arlington, VA

It’s been sixty years since four black students integrated Stratford Junior High School, marking the beginning of the end of school segregation in Virginia, and Arlington leaders are planning a special event to commemorate the momentous anniversary.

The school system and Arlington County’s Historic Preservation Program scheduled a celebration tonight (Monday) at the H-B Woodlawn auditorium, near the original Stratford building at 4100 Vacation Lane.

The event will mark nearly 60 years to the day from when the students first attended the school back on Feb. 2, 1959, as Stratford became the first school to defy the state’s policy of “massive resistance” in the face of the Brown v. Board of Education decision banning school segregation.

The program will include remarks from School Board Chair Reid Goldstein and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, as well as three of the four students who first integrated the school: Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson. The fourth, Lance Newman, passed away last fall.

The program also includes a performance by the H-B Woodlawn Choir and participants from the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Visual Arts contest reading essays they prepared. Arlington Public Art will also be distributing free 60th anniversary commemorative letterpress prints created by visiting artist Amos Kennedy.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. for anyone hoping to examine artifacts and art from the civil rights era, with the formal program beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The gathering comes at a time of great change for the Stratford property. With H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs set to move to a new building in Rosslyn for the new school year, the site will soon become home to a new middle school.

The School Board decided late last year to name the building for Dorothy Hamm, an Arlington-based civil rights activist who fought for the integration of Stratford. However, the Board attracted some backlash by stripping any reference to Stratford from the building’s name, given the term’s connection to Robert E. Lee and his family home of Stratford Hall.

Photo via Arlington County

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(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board will name a new Cherrydale middle school after civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm, opting against including any reference to the historic Stratford School on the new building’s site.

Following the Board’s unanimous vote yesterday (Thursday), the school will open next year as “Dorothy Hamm Middle School.” It’s set to be located at 4100 Vacation Lane, the former home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, and should hold about 1,000 students.

Though the process of naming the building hasn’t drawn quite as much controversy as the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, the debate has nonetheless raised familiar questions about how the county grapples with its history. The “Stratford” name presented a particularly thorny option for the Board to consider, as it has a bit of a complex legacy.

Many people around the community hoped to see the Stratford name stay attached to the new school, considering its significance in the civil rights movement in Virginia. The original Stratford Junior High School (which remains on the site) was the first school in the state to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision, marking the beginning of the end of Virginia’s policy of “massive resistance” to desegregation.

Yet the original school was named after Stratford Hall, the childhood plantation home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, making some uncomfortable with the name’s connection to Lee’s legacy of defending slavery. After all, the Board voted just a few months ago to strip Lee’s name from W-L over similar concerns.

Accordingly, Hamm emerged as an alternative choice, given her role in fighting to integrate Stratford. Her children attended the school soon after its desegregation, and Hamm also supported a series of other court challenges to Jim Crow-era laws in Arlington.

“What I really love is that this was a story of the moms of Arlington, who heard from their children,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen. “They wanted to know why they couldn’t attend this school. That’s why they stood up and fought. By naming this building after Dorothy Hamm, we’re honoring the fight, rather than the place. I think it’s going to be a terrific message that we’re sending to the students of that school, and I think that’s something to be excited about.”

But in ditching the Stratford name entirely, the Board cast aside the recommendation of an advisory committee convened to offer recommendations for the school’s moniker. The group suggested either naming the building simply “Stratford Middle School” or the lengthier “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” to ensure a reference to the “Stratford” remained.

Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento proposed that the Board accept the latter option, but Kanninen made a motion to remove the “Historic Stratford Building” section of the name. That passed, but only on a narrow, 3-2 margin, with Talento and Board Chair Reid Golstein dissenting.

“I find it a bit incongruous that we all like the Dorothy Hamm name because we’re lauding the significant, dynamic and historic actions of Dorothy Hamm in the desegregation activity and, at the same time, setting aside the Stratford name, which is equally a part of the significant desegregation history here,” Goldstein said.

Dean Fleming, a friend of the Hamm family who has also been active in organizing opposition to the W-L name change, also told the Board that Hamm’s daughter, Carmela, is “not interested in having her mom’s name on school.” Dorothy Hamm herself passed away in 2004.

Instead, Fleming said her daughter suggested creating a “hall of honors” at Stratford to honor the family’s legacy, while preserving the original name of the building.

Yet Board member Nancy Van Doren argued that the school system has already sketched out an extensive plan for creating an “interpretative trail” and other memorials on the new school’s grounds to ensure that the full history of the Stratford building is available to students.

Though some historic preservation groups around the county have protested any removal of the Stratford name, Van Doren believes the new building will not lack for commemorations of its integration history.

“Those will all be up at the time the building opens,” Van Doren said. “And because it will all be physically there, on the site, I don’t think we need the ‘at the Historic Stratford School’ section of the name.”

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Arlington school officials will soon decide on a name for the new middle school to be built on the site of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale — but the complex history of the building, and its original name, has divided the community over which option is best.

A naming committee settled on three options for the 1,000-seat school in October, ahead of the building’s planned opening next fall. But that collection of parents and community members hasn’t been able to settle on a definitive recommendation as the School Board gears up for a vote on the matter.

The 28-member committee was instead split down the middle on two options for the building: naming it simply “Stratford Middle School,” or dubbing it “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building.”

The group initially considered “Legacy Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” as an option, but that choice fell out of favor as the process advanced. The committee even floated the compromise possibility of naming the building “Stratford-Hamm Middle School,” but stopped short of recommending such an option.

The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, currently houses the H-B Woodlawn program, but was once the site of Stratford Junior High School. That’s believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, lending plenty of historic significance to the site and its name.

But the “Stratford” name itself comes from a considerably darker part of the nation’s past. The name is derived from Stratford Hall, the plantation home of Robert E. Lee and his family in Westmoreland County.

Considering that the school system is in the midst of a contentious process to strip Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School, any association with the Confederate general has the potential to kick off a new firestorm of controversy in the county. Accordingly, some members of the naming committee championed naming the building after Dorothy Hamm, a civil rights activist who helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford.

“The event signified the end of massive resistance in the commonwealth of Virginia and dealt a powerful blow to the opponents of racial equality nationwide,” Ellen Smith, the incoming principal of the new middle school, wrote in a letter to the Board. “While Hamm was the community activist at the forefront of the campaign to integrate Arlington Public Schools, she was not the only community activist that was determined to integrate Arlington schools so that all students would have the opportunity to receive an equal education.”

Smith noted in her letter that the committee was determined to see “Stratford” remain part of the name somehow, in order to maintain “the clear connection between the name of the school” and its historic integration. But by including it only as addendum beyond Hamm’s name, Smith wrote that some on the committee fear it will be “dropped from regular use.”

That’s why many would much rather simply name the school “Stratford.” The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board endorsed such an option, castigating the school system in a letter for even considering the possibility of a name other than Stratford “without any apparent prior consideration of the uniqueness and the historical and cultural significance” of the site.

A special committee convened by Superintendent Patrick Murphy to debate “Historic Interpretation at the Former Stratford Junior High School” reached a similar conclusion, noting that the school has earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

“That the Stratford name comes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee is an uncomfortable part of the history, but not the most important part,” Susan Cunningham, the co-chair of that committee, wrote in an email to ARLnow. “As community historian Dr. Arnold Taylor reminds us, ‘We have to understand where we are coming from so we can appreciate where we are going’… Names matter. History matters. At Stratford, the civil rights history matters most.”

Smith urged the Board to consider the opinions of both the commission and the review board, but otherwise would not take a firm position beyond suggesting one of the two names.

The Board will discuss naming options for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 6), with a final vote set for Dec. 20.

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A naming committee is narrowing down its options for a moniker for the new middle school taking the place of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale.

The 1,000-seat middle school is set to open next fall, and a committee of parents and community members charged with picking a name for the building has settled on three finalists, according to an anonymous tipster and confirmed by school system spokesman Frank Bellavia. Those include:

  • Stratford Middle School
  • Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the historic Stratford building
  • Legacy Middle School at the historic Stratford building

The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, was once the site of Stratford Junior High School, and has long been recognized as one of the valuable historic sites in the county. The old Stratford school is believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Even still, there’s been some hesitancy to simply name the school “Stratford,” given the name’s association with Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Located in Westmoreland County, Stratford Hall was the plantation home of the Lee family, and any association with Lee is quite fraught in Arlington Public Schools circles at the moment. The school system is also in the process of changing the name of Washington-Lee High School to remove Lee’s name from the building, a move that’s prompted a lawsuit and fierce community debate.

“Many (including the committee responsible for commemorating these events in the new school and the director of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington) expressed strong interest in keeping the Stratford name given the significance of the events on the site,” naming committee member Caroline Holt wrote in a letter to the community, which was provided to ARLnow. “Others expressed interest in finding a name that commemorates what the school will represent or that honors the events there without calling it Stratford (e.g., similar to Discovery Elementary which could not be named after John Glenn as he is still living).”

Hamm also has a connection to Stratford’s history with integration. As a civil rights activist, she helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford. Her daughter, Carmela, became one of the first African American students to attend Stratford.

Hamm also participated in a series of other court challenges to Jim Crow-era laws in Arlington, including efforts to end the segregation of county theaters and the poll tax. Bellavia says the school system is currently in the process of contacting Hamm’s family to make them aware of her inclusion as a possible honoree at Stratford.

The naming committee is set to deliver a recommendation on a name to the School Board in time for its Dec. 6 meeting, with a final vote set for Dec. 20.

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With Arlington Public Schools’ Stratford Program getting ready for a big move, school leaders are giving students (and their parents) a choice about where they’ll spend the next year learning.

The program, which serves secondary-level special education students, is set to relocate into a new building in Rosslyn for the 2019-2020 school year. But its current space on Vacation Lane, which it shares with the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, will soon be renovated to become a new middle school, forcing Stratford students to temporarily find a new home.

APS officials initially planned to send Stratford over to the Reed School building in Westover for a year, but a few weeks ago they began seeking feedback from parents on a plan to move the program to Yorktown High School instead.

In a letter to Stratford parents Monday (June 4), Stratford principal Karen Gerry revealed that APS settled on a compromise solution between those two proposals. Families will now have the option of sending students to Yorktown or Reed for the 2018-19 school year; summer sessions in both 2018 and 2019 will be held at Reed, regardless of which option families choose, however.

“While we understand that this may mean some students within the Stratford program are educated in different locations for the 2018-19 school year, we also know that the needs of our students are different,” Gerry wrote. “We will provide the staffing and supports expected in the program at either location and will work with families on specific needs.”

Families have until June 15 to complete a survey on where they’d prefer to send their students.

Gerry added that “we want to reassure you that the Stratford Program will continue and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 is moving ahead.” Some rumors circulated a few weeks back that APS would seek to eliminate the Stratford program instead, but officials have insisted there are no such plans in the works.

The full letter from Gerry to Stratford parents is after the jump.

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Arlington Public Schools is shooting down rumors that the Stratford Program is going to be “dismantled” while also announcing that a new, temporary location is under consideration.

Stratford serves secondary-level special education students and is currently co-located with the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on Vacation Lane. Both programs are set to move to a new facility in Rosslyn for the 2019-2020 school year, but Stratford will be moving to a temporary home during the next school year to facilitate the renovation of its current building into a neighborhood middle school.

In a letter to parents today, Stratford principal Karen Gerry said that APS is now reconsidering a plan to house Stratford in the Reed School building in Westover for a year. For various reasons, APS says Yorktown High School may be a better temporary location, and the school system is kicking off a hurried outreach effort with parents to discuss the new option.

Gerry, in her letter, also acknowledges a false rumor that had been spreading via email that APS was planning to eliminate the Stratford Program.

“It seems that Arlington County has made a decision to dismantle the Stratford Program and that we will not be joining HB Woodlawn at the new site in Rosslyn, as planned,” said the email, which was sent by a parent and later obtained by ARLnow.com. “Several Stratford parents are concerned that this decision has been made without consultation with the wider Stratford community.”

“Over the last few days, there have been many community conversations, emails and statements posted about our plans for next year, and unfortunately, much of it has included misleading or incorrect information,” Gerry wrote. “We want to reassure you that regardless of the one-year location for Stratford students in the 2018-19 school year, the Stratford Program is not being dismantled and our plan to move to the new building on Wilson in the fall of 2019 has not changed.”

The full letter from Gerry to Stratford parents is after the jump.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Arlington School Board reviewed the design and proposed construction contract for the Stratford School building renovation at its meeting last night (March 22).

In a presentation, Arlington Public Schools staff said that the guaranteed maximum price of the renovation and three-story addition — which will prepare the building to host a new neighborhood middle school as the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program moves to Rosslyn — “exceeded previous estimates by several million dollars.” A vote to approve the revised price ceiling is slated for next month.

“Much of the overage was because market escalation has outpaced the rate included in design estimates – consequences of unexpected increases in material costs and subcontractor labor shortages,” the presentation said.

The price ceiling submission was $4.68 million over the target value, according to the presentation, or about 17 percent over. The new project total is approximately $39.15 million.

To keep costs down, APS refined estimated soft costs, underwent selective rebidding, and undertook value engineering and scope reductions. The interior design and suggested roofing materials were modified to find low-to-no-impact ways to cut costs, the document stated.

Over 160 separate items were evaluated to find ways to cut costs for the project while making the smallest impact on teaching, learning, and “community improvements discussed during the public process.”

Other potential savings were found but would require undesirable revisions, including the elimination of an arts and technology suite and new gymnasium bleachers, among other educational amenities deemed necessary.

Most of the funding for the $39 million project will come from school bonds, but $2.3 million will come from the county government under a joint funding agreement.

The project may also be eligible for a Virginia Historic Tax Credit of between $1.5-2 million, which would be used to replenish APS’ capital reserve, according to the presentation. The Stratford School was the first Virginia public school to integrate.

Construction at the site, which is expected to add 310 seats for a total of 1,000 seats, is set to begin in April. Officials are expecting to welcome students for the first day of school in September 2019.

Screenshots via Arlington School Board

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The Stratford School building in Cherrydale will expand as it transitions to a middle school.

The County Board unanimously approved a plan Saturday to add 40,000 square feet to the school, which currently houses the H-B Woodlawn secondary program. The addition will include a new library, an auxiliary gym, classrooms, science labs and other teaching spaces and a new student common area.

A design for the 1,000-seat middle school was first approved last year by the County Board.

Also in 2016, the County Board designated the school as a local historic district. In 1959, when Stratford was previously a middle school, it was the first Virginia public school to be integrated.

“This plan ensures that Stratford School building, perhaps Arlington’s most significant local historic designation so far, will be preserved — and will be adapted to serve the changing needs of our growing student population,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said. “We have to meet our county’s current needs while remembering and honoring the important role Stratford played in 1959, when it became the first public school in the commonwealth to be integrated.”

Ben Bergen, assistant director of design and construction for schools, said Superintendent Patrick Murphy has formed a group to discuss an “interpretive experience” to recognize the school’s history.

The school’s athletic field will be re-graded and rebuilt. Arlington Public Schools staff agreed to try redesigning the field to meet Ultimate Frisbee requirements, as in current plans it is too short for that sport. H-B Woodlawn currently offers an Ultimate Frisbee program for its students.

The H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs are set relocate to the redeveloping Wilson School site in Rosslyn, starting in 2019.

Bergen said construction should begin early next year, with the major work being done in the summers of 2018 and 2019. H-B Woodlawn students will stay in the building during construction, while the Stratford program will move into temporary buildings.

School Board chairwoman Nancy Van Doren said once finished, the new Stratford School will be a facility everyone can be proud of.

“We broke so many new boundaries with this, and I think we’re going to end up with a fabulous, fabulous project,” she said.

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) Arlington County is moving forward with construction plans for Stratford Park.

The 3.8 acre park, at 4321 Old Dominion Drive, is located next to the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program building, which will later become a 1,000 seat middle school when H-B moves to Rosslyn in 2019.

The current park has picnic tables, a youth baseball/softball field (which has also been used by adult team sports), two lighted tennis courts, a rectangular field and a lighted basketball court.

The new park, which is in the final design stages and is expected to go out to bid in the first quarter of 2017, will include upgraded fields, courts, landscaping and site furnishings.

Among the planned changes: the new diamond field will be fenced in, with dugouts, batting cages and bleachers added.

While the fence around a soon-to-be-upgraded diamond field in Bluemont Park prompted a neighborhood outcry this fall, since largely resolved by removing portions of the fence, thus far there has been little public protest about the Stratford Park fence.

Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the field’s primary purpose will be to host organized baseball and softball activities, though other uses will be allowed when the field is not otherwise being used.

“The approved plan does include fence around the diamond field, as the field will primarily be used for diamond sports (permit takes priority),” she told ARLnow.com, via email. “The fence entrances will always be open to allow people access to the area when the field is not in use.”

The parks department sent an email to residents who live near the park last month, updating them on the project’s progress. An excerpt of that email, detailing some of the changes, is below.

Construction of the park upgrades is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2017 and wrap up within the first three months of 2018. The overall design, management and construction budget is $1.7 million.

In early 2015, the County worked with the community to develop a  concept  plan for the site. The  concept plan is a tool to inform the County, APS and the community on how new school access routes and other changes to the school site within the park boundary could impact the plan for park improvements.  DPR worked closely with APS in order to coordinate pedestrian accessibility from the park to the school. In addition, a restroom facility will be provided at the school for park users. DPR may make some minor changes to the concept as final costs for the improvements are determined in order to ensure the project remains within budget.

The approved project scope includes replacing and bringing existing features to current standards and adding new amenities to the park. Below is a breakdown of each one.

Existing to be Replaced:

  • Tennis Courts
  • Basketball Court
  • Court Lighting
  • Diamond Field
  • Backstop
  • Players Benches
  • Parking
  • Fencing (split rail)
  • Stairs and Walkways
  • Seating
  • Trash Receptacles
  • Trees and Shrubs

New to the Park:

  • Drinking Fountain
  • Pedestrian Lighting
  • Dugouts
  • Batting Cages
  • Bleachers
  • Outfield Fence
  • Retaining Walls
  • 50/70 Intermediate (50/70) Diamond Field Layout with Irrigation
  • Additional Trash Receptacles and Seating
  • Picnic Area
  • Storm Water Management Facility
  • Additional Landscaping
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Morning Notes

Large plush bear outside of Kinder Haus Toys in Clarendon

Stratford School Designated Historic — The Arlington County Board has approved a historic designation for the Stratford School, the current home to the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the future home to a new middle school. In 1959, Stratford became the first public school in Virginia to be integrated, with four black seventh graders enrolling, thus marking the beginning of the end of school segregation in the Commonwealth. [Arlington County]

Fox Freed From Fence — A not-so-sly fox had to be freed by an Arlington animal control officer after getting its hind leg stuck in a chain link fence. The fox was uninjured. [Twitter]

Park Expansion, Land Donation Approved — The County Board last night approved the expansion of Benjamin Banneker Park, via the purchase of a 8,487-square-foot lot for $637,500. The Board also accepted the donation of 7,432 square feet of land adjacent to I-66 and a bike trail. Hitt Contracting, Inc. donated the land after figuring out that zoning restrictions prevented the company from developing it. [Arlington County]

Preservationists Worried About Tear-Downs — Local preservationists are worried about plan to tear down a number of older properties in the area of Minor’s Hill and replace them with new homes. However, it appears that the home builders will be able to proceed with their plans, as “Arlington County has no legal authority to delay or stop the demolition.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Long Branch Creek’s First Neighborhood Plan — The Long Branch Creek neighborhood, located near the Glebe Road onramp to I-395, has had its first-ever Neighborhood Conservation Plan approved by the Arlington County Board. The plan will allow the neighborhood to apply for neighborhood improvement projects. It calls for Long Branch Creek to become a “walkable urban village” while “preserving the livability and quiet, diverse character of the neighborhood.” [Arlington County]

Yorktown Student Auditions for Shark Tank — Among those auditioning for the ABC show Shark Tank at a recent casting call at 1776 in Crystal City was a 17-year-old Yorktown High School student, Zanab Farooq, who founded a custom mobile phone case company. [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

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The Arlington County Board, during an hours-long meeting on Saturday, debated whether to include a controversial driveway feature in the design for the forthcoming Stratford Middle School in Cherrydale.

Though the Arlington School Board approved the school’s design in November, the project’s designers, county staff and some neighbors have come to an impasse on whether that design should include a one-way driveway connecting N. Vacation Lane and Old Dominion Drive.

Proponents of the plan with the driveway — including its designers and some locals — argued the one-way avenue is needed to mitigate traffic in the area and would give the new school a much-needed area for pickup and drop-off. But opponents of the plan said building the driveway would negatively impact the environment by removing 166 trees from the site and would send hundreds of vehicles directly onto Old Dominion Drive, among other concerns.

Among those arguing against building the driveway is Dennis Leach, deputy director of transportation for Arlington County.

“The driveway causes adverse environmental impacts to the site and is not essential for transportation access,” he said.

But Vern Torney, a traffic expert hired by a community organization dubbed the Coalition for a Safe Stratford, said the driveway plan would actually help the environment, albeit in a different way.

“With the driveway, you’ll see that the fuel consumptions seven percent less and the noxious emissions range from one to ten percent less than the without driveway scenario,” argued Torney. “It’s my professional opinion that the with driveway scenario offers an advantage over the alternative.”

Members of Arlington Public Schools’ Building Level Planning Committee (BLPC) also supported the plan to build the driveway, citing reduced risk of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and better accessibility and emergency access.

After hearing hours of concerns and comments from members of the community and other interested parties, the Board’s members made their opinions known.

“It’s clear to me that reasonable people with good motives can still have profound disagreements about an ultimate proposal that’s before you,” said Board member Christian Dorsey. “I am comfortable with the driveway option as being the most prudent to address all of the concerns that the renovation of stratford has at this point.”

Board members John Vihstad and Katie Cristol also agreed that building the driveway was ultimately the right course of action in a complicated decision.

The lone voice of dissent came from Board member Jay Fisette.

“I think we can accomplish and maximize the benefits in the longer term… by not including the driveway,” Fisette said. “The best way to do that is changing the modal split.” But Fisette acknowledged that, “either way, we’re going to have a much better outcome.”

County Board Chair Libby Garvey had the last word on the matter.

“I do believe in the end that building the road will be helpful to the environment, will improve safety and will encourage more students and their families to be walking instead of driving to school,” Garvey said.

In total, the Board spend about 4.5 hours on the discussion, even though it was just a “Request to Advertise” on the “Consent Agenda” for non-controversial items. Most of the time was spent in an impromptu County Board work session; a vote on the matter is expected to take place at a subsequent Board meeting.

The Stratford school building is slated to be renovated after its current primary occupant, the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, moves to the Wilson School in Rosslyn.

Photo via APS/Quinn Evans Architects

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