In 1955, there were 32,000 children enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). By 1965 that number would climb to 94,450. The Lincolnia and Bailey’s Crossroads communities saw tremendous population growth in the 1950s, leading to overcrowding at the few schools in the area. In November 1956, housing developer Merwin A. Mace of Mace Properties, Inc. donated land in the Parklawn subdivision to the Fairfax County School Board for a school site. In October of the following year, the School Board awarded the contract for the construction of Parklawn Elementary School to the Rust Construction Company for $456,078.
The First Intermediate School
With construction of Parklawn Elementary School underway, the School Board turned its attention to other matters. In particular, the Board was in the midst of lengthy discussions with school system administrators about initiating a fundamental change in the way FCPS provided education to children. Traditionally, students in grades one through seven attended elementary schools, and students in grades eight through twelve attended high schools. A reorganization plan was under consideration that would create a new type of school–the intermediate school–for seventh and eighth graders. In the summer of 1958, the School Board designated Parklawn Elementary School as the pilot site to test this educational innovation.
When Parklawn School opened on September 8, 1958, the student body was comprised solely of seventh and eighth graders. As the school year progressed, the School Board, satisfied with the progress of the pilot intermediate program, moved ahead with the reorganization plan division-wide. It was determined that Parklawn would continue to operate as an intermediate school until a new building could be constructed nearby. In the spring of 1959, the School Board acquired land for the new school building and approved its name, Ellen Glasgow Intermediate School. The 1960-61 school year saw the county-wide introduction of the intermediate school reorganization and eight new intermediate schools opened. Construction of Glasgow Intermediate School was not completed in time for the opening of schools in September, so Parklawn remained in use as an intermediate school until Glasgow opened in the spring of 1961.
Parklawn began operation as an elementary school beginning with the 1961-62 school year. From 1870 to 1966, public schools in Fairfax County were segregated by race. Racial integration was a slow process, beginning in 1960 and culminating county-wide at the end of the 1965-66 school year. When our school first opened, only white children from the surrounding community were admitted to Parklawn. African-American children from our area were sent to Lillian Carey Elementary School near Bailey’s Crossroads. Beginning in 1960, if an African-American child in Fairfax County wanted to attend a white school closer to their home, their parents had to apply to Virginia’s Pupil Placement Board and the Fairfax County School Board for permission to enroll. Parklawn was one of the first schools in Fairfax County to admit African-American children.
Fairfax County was far less racially and ethnically diverse in the 1960s than it is today. In November 1966, the Washington Post reported that the enrollment at Parklawn Elementary School was comprised of 84 African-American students and 641 white students. The diversity we embrace today developed slowly during the 1970s and 1980s. By comparison, in 2015 Parklawn students came from 37 countries and spoke 34 different languages.
What’s in a Name?
The Parklawn Elementary School community is steeped in history. Learn about the origin of the name Parklawn, the Clark dairy farm, Chestnut Hill Plantation, and the founding of the Mount Pleasant African-American community in this video produced for Fairfax County Public Schools’ cable television channel Red Apple 21.
In the Spotlight
Did you know that Parklawn Elementary School has hosted not one, but two First Ladies of the United States? First Lady Barbara Bush visited Parklawn in May 1989, and in January 2012 First Lady Michelle Obama visited Parklawn to announce new guidelines for school lunches.