Students, parents and community members all came out to a meeting last week at Bailey’s Elementary to vote for the name of the school’s new expansion campus.
The vote came as part of a deliberate effort by school officials to bring community voices into the plans for Fairfax County’s first urban-design school. But from School Board members to school parents, some remain concerned that the outreach efforts are not extensive enough.
Communication with the public has proved a sticking point throughout the project, which will see a five-story office building on Leesburg Pike converted into a vertical-layout school. The renovated building will hold grades 3-5 from Bailey’s, providing relief to the severely crowded Falls Church school. The school is currently at 130 percent capacity, with more than 1,300 students in a building designed to accommodate 1,024.
Before the school system purchased the property in December, several community members came before the School Board to express frustration with what they saw as a veiled decision-making process.
Others said they felt duped that the purchase and renovation of the office building would be funded by $20 million earmarked for construction of a new elementary school, not an extension of Bailey’s.
As a result, FCPS administration is now trying to keep the community informed. Updates on the renovation are being posted on a project website, and members of the school community and surrounding neighborhoods are being asked for their input on the design and now on the name for the new campus.
At the meeting on March 19, the community came together to vote for the name.
“We did try to do as much outreach as we possibly could to make sure people knew this was going to happen and they could participate,” said School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason) at a School Board meeting the next day. Evans represents the Mason District, which includes Bailey’s.
School officials reached out to parents and local civic associations starting in early March, Evans said. And of the eight candidates for the name, three were suggested by students, three by the PTA and two by community associations.
Several rounds of voting narrowed the name choices to the top two: “Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences” and “Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences - Thurgood Marshall Campus.” In the final ballot, the former won out.
That name will now be voted on by the School Board at their next meeting on April 10.
Suzie Phipps, a Bailey’s parent, applauded the vote at a School Board meeting the next night.
“What I saw was a process that was well thought out, thorough and allowed all members of our community, both parents and neighbors, to participate in the naming of our campus,” Phipps said.
Still, despite the soliciting of community input, Stephen Spitz, a resident of Lake Barcroft who attended the meeting, took issue with yet another opaque procedure.
“We did not know who got to vote until less than 24 hours before the vote,” Spitz said in front of the School Board. “Nobody knew in the broader community what the candidates were for the name until we got there. I find that very inadequate.”
Spitz urged for further community discussion before the School Board comes to a final decision.
“As we move forward, I do have concerns that we’re just transferring a name,” School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said. “I would expect that there’s going to be further discussion about community involvement. We want to make sure that the name for a building that is probably going to be here long after we’re all gone has been carefully considered.”