Innovation’s Invitation to APS Community

New Innovation Elementary School is set to open its doors in fall of 2021-22 school year to Rosslyn/Courthouse area

Arlington Public Schools (APS), who has been no stranger to controversy due to  Washington-Liberty’s name change in 2019, took on an even more daunting task in the creation of the new Innovation Elementary School. From zoning to renaming, the Rosslyn and Courthouse communities have been involved with APS staff to help create a nurturing environment at the former Key Elementary site. 

“The swap” — as referred to by many Arlingtonians — was the process of moving several elementary schools in order to accommodate the growing population and need for a neighborhood school in the Courthouse and Rosslyn area. A new building was constructed in Westover, soon to be filled with students from both Tuckahoe and McKinley, which ultimately left McKinley empty for Arlington Traditional School (ATS). Key (whose building is now Innovation) has been moved to the ATS building on George Mason Drive, which will allow for some students from Arlington Science Focus School (ASFS) to attend Innovation in the fall of 2021. 

“There are certainly families who currently attend the Key immersion programs who are now going to need to go to school farther away from their homes, but people do attend Key immersion from a large boundary,” current principal  of Innovation — and former W-L Assistant Principal — Ms. Claire Peters said. “It is going to benefit the students who currently attend [ASFS] and have to take a bus; they are now going to be able to walk to a new neighborhood school.”

The benefit of this “swap’ was that the growing community had only ASFS to send their students to. However, ASFS was outside of their boundary, leaving the school overcrowded and underfunded. As there was no room to build a new neighborhood school for these children to go to, the new one in Westover and redirection of elementary schoolers across APS mimicked the effects.

“There has been a lot of positive energy from the families who are now going to have this as a neighborhood school because they have been playing on this playground. They live close to this building, this is going to be a great neighborhood school for them,” Ms Peters said. “But, I definitely understand that it is a difficult change for the families who are going to have to go to a program that’s farther away from where they live.”

The former Key building was left to the staff to reinvent, beginning with the name. Under the direction of Ms Peters, several community members, parents and educators formed a naming committee. 

“This position was really exciting to me because it was an opportunity to open a brand new school,” Ms. Peters said. “That is just a very unique opportunity where I can work with staff to create a culture and work with families to develop this new environment,” 

Three meetings were held between January and March of 2021 to try to best encapsulate the purpose and message of the school. Beginning with a list of 44 names compiled from residents of the Innovation district, they narrowed them down to five: Gateway, Innovation, Summa, Polaris and Grace Hopper.

“We tried to look at both sides of the coin — [the positives and negatives of each name] — the best that we could when we made our decision,” first grade ASFS teacher and naming committee member Ms. Jazmynn Wilson said.

Each name was given much thought as to their possible interpretations and theme. The naming committee reviewed all five before being sent out in a survey format but received only 386 responses, just 22 percent of which were from guardians of students who will attend Innovation. 

“[The few results we received from the survey] don’t give us tons of information,” Ms. Wilson said. “Assuming that this represents who took the survey, we didn’t feel it was a well-rounded amount of people.” 

As the results of the surveys were not completely comprehensive and reflective of the community, ASFS Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member Rabia Oubenadi stressed the importance of including minority voices of fellow parents in the decision making process. It was important to her that there  was an accurate portrayal of the students in something as basic as the school’s name. There were, however, several issues with the survey announcement and translations.

“I don’t think it was intentional, but I don’t think that [minority members of the community] had the access to it that we would hope for in a perfect world,” Wilson said. “But, I do think that we thought about it and we tried our best to get it out to them.” 

The naming committee then broke down the significance of each possible title. For example, they cited that naming the elementary school after a person such as Grace Hopper, one of the suggestions, may not be the proper way to memorialize her. Hopper was a computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral that paved way for many advancements in technology and for women in her field. However, it was also included that she was not necessarily representative of APS or reflective of their priorities, just as any other person. 

“Grace Hopper was a great person, she did a lot of great things. But, we were concerned that, over only three meetings, had we really thought of all the possible names? How do we really make a value judgment about who is deserving or who is not deserving in terms of people?” Ms Peters said. 

“Gateway” was a final contender, almost tying with the chosen “Innovation.” It represented a path to greater success as well as a physical representation of the opening to the District of Columbia from Arlington.

“Innovation, I would say, was not one of the top choices at the first committee meeting, ”Ms Peters said. “But, I think by the time we reached the end of our third meeting, we were all really excited about that as a possibility.” 

Although there was some controversy surrounding the name change of the former Key Elementary, the APS School Board chose the naming committee’s first choice after their three months of deliberation. 

“We just were really thoughtful, and everyone was very honest with their opinions in a meaningful but respectful way,” Ms Wilson said.