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Fairhill Elementary School was established during the 1965-1966 school year. Classes were initially held at Luther Jackson Middle School until construction of our building was completed in December. Our doors officially opened to students on December 7, 1965. During that first year we had 327 pupils in grades 1-6. The first kindergarten classes started in 1968.
Where did the name Fairhill come from?
The following history was written for Fairhill Elementary School’s 25th anniversary celebration in April 1991 by Debra Willen of Fairhill’s PTA.
The History of Fairhill Elementary School
Fairhill Elementary School has held an important place in our community since its establishment 25 years ago. From its beginning, Fairhill has remained a small school of between 300 and 400 students, drawn from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods. Yet as Fairfax County has undergone tremendous changes and astonishing growth, the School also has grown if not in size, in terms of the richness of its curriculum, the expertise of its staff, and the modernness of its plant and educational equipment. Moreover, since the addition of Fairhill Center in 1977, the general education and special education segments of Fairhill have made the difficult progression to becoming a single school community, to the benefit of all of the Fairhill students and families.
Today Fairfax County has a population approaching one million and has the tenth largest school system in the nation. Preliminary 1990 census figures for the county show that there are 815,223 residents. As of September 1990, there were 129,242 students at 208 county schools, staffed by 15,222 employees. The FY 1990 approved school budget was approximately $875.8 million. The average teacher salary in the fall of 1990 was $39,404. Moreover, the county has other quality community services. There are 22 public library branches and approximately 40 parks and recreation centers.
By contrast, in 1865, a century before Fairhill School was built, Fairfax County was a dairy farming region with a population of a few thousand. By 1965, the county had grown to become one of the most heavily-populated political subdivisions in Virginia, with a population of about 350,000. Most of the county’s urbanization at this time was concentrated in its eastern portion. As late as 1960, a quarter of all acreage remained farmland. The western parts of the county were still being transformed from farmland to suburban subdivisions, townhouse developments, large apartment complexes, and shopping centers.
The year Fairhill opened, there were 95,652 students, 129 schools, and 6,280 school employees in Fairfax County. The school budget for the county was approximately $53.9 million, or about 6% of what it is this year. The average teacher salary was $7,214. There were only ten public library branches and two bookmobiles. The major county park was Lake Accotink. The county was about to acquire Lake Fairfax Park and land at Burke Lake, Twin Lakes, and Holmes Run Stream Valley. In 1966, Congress would establish Wolf Trap Farm as a national park, in which concert facilities would later be constructed. Area movie theaters included the State Theatre on Washington Street in Falls Church, the Loew’s Theater at Arlington-Lee Plaza in Fairfax, the Super 29 Drive-In in Fairfax, and the Lee Highway-Arlington Boulevard Drive-In Theater, on the site of the current Lee Highway Multiplex Cinemas.
The Opening of Fairhill School
In May 1963, the county approved the issuance of a $29.9 million bond for new school construction to meet the needs of the county’s growing population. The funds were to be used, in part, to construct 19 new elementary schools, each with capacity for 600 pupils. The new schools were to be opened for school sessions beginning in 1964, 1965, and 1966. The schools were to be of masonry and steel construction, with steel windows, tile floors, and wood doors.
The site for Fairhill Elementary School was previously part of a farm, known as “Fairhill on the Boulevard.” At the time, the area surrounding the school still contained several large tracts of open land, some of which housed farm animals. Construction of the school began in the spring of 1965.
Fairhill ultimately cost $508,300 to build. It was not completed until December 7, 1965. The original facility had 20 regular-sized classrooms – eight primary classrooms and twelve elementary classrooms. In addition, there were two half-sized classrooms which could be converted into a full-sized room by moving doors. There was a faculty workroom and lounge. The present administration suite, library, and cafeteria were included in the original structure, but there was no gymnasium. The school was situated on 10.17 acres of land, which included 5.75 acres of unpaved playground and .43 acres of marked blacktop.
Since the building was not ready when the 1965-66 school year began, the school operated out of Luther Jackson Intermediate School during the fall of 1965. Fairhill’s first principal was Jane Miner. Original staff members included Sarah Somers, the secretary who would serve Fairhill’s faculty and students so well for 22 years, and Ken Hibbitts, the custodian who continues to take excellent care of Fairhill’s physical plant today. There were approximately 15 teachers.
The school opened with an enrollment of 327 students in six grades. Fairhill’s students were drawn from Cedar Lane School, Mantua School, Marshall Road School, Stenwood School, and James Lee School, a segregated African-American school. In fact, it was in 1965-66 that Fairfax County finally completed desegregating all remaining “Colored” schools.
At the time, the county’s students with physical disabilities attended Belle Willard School for both elementary and intermediate education. In 1965, Belle Willard had 47 pupils, divided into four classes. The staff at Belle Willard consisted of a principal, four teachers, an occupational therapist, and two attendants.
Undoubtedly, a major event for Fairhill students that first year was the “Great Blizzard of ’66,” which closed county schools for seven days at the end of January and the beginning of February. One of the favorite local sledding spots was a large farm located on the northwest corner of Prosperity Avenue and Arlington Boulevard.
Fairhill’s Early Years
During the school year 1967-68, Fairhill applied for its initial accreditation from the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. The Self-Study Report prepared in conjunction with that accreditation process provides an excellent picture of what academic life was like at Fairhill in its early years.
At this time, the principal was Joseph A. Ross. The curriculum included an extensive language arts program, mathematics, social studies, science, physical education, music, and art. Within each classroom, students were grouped according to ability for both reading and math. Students in grades four through six participated in a pilot French program, sponsored by the county, which consisted primarily of viewing educational television programs.
In addition to the regular classroom teachers, the staff included two special education teachers, a full-time language arts teacher for the primary grades, a remedial reading teacher who worked with students in grades three through six, two days each week. There were also part-time instrumental music teachers and a part-time speech therapist. “Helping teachers,” who rotated among 18 different schools spending about a half-day each month at Fairhill, assisted with the teaching of science, art, music, and French.
The library was staffed by a full-time librarian, who held weekly library periods and followed an “open door” policy at all times, before, during, and after school. In 1967-68, the library held 5,600 books. Book fairs were already an annual event.
There was neither a gym at Fairhill nor a physical education teacher. The regular classroom teachers supervised 30 minutes of organized play and 15 minutes of free play every day, outside on the blacktop and playground or, during inclement weather, in unused classrooms.
School organizations already included the SCA, Safety Patrol, and PTA. In addition, after regular school hours, students participated in the chorus, piano lessons, ballet classes, and scouting activities.
In the fall of 1968, the county welcomed approximately 8,000 new kindergarteners into its elementary schools for the first time. Fairhill’s first kindergarten teacher, Laura Roberson, taught a morning and an afternoon class of about 25 children each.
Sometime in 1969 or 1970, the dress code was relaxed for Fairhill students. For the first time, girls were permitted to wear slacks to school.
In 1974, Mr. Ross was succeeded as principal by May A. Redman. Richard A. Claybrook became principal in 1975. During the 1970s, may of Fairhill’s more senior staff members began teaching at the school, including Nancy Sayers, Mary Bacchus, Debbie McDonald, and Freddie Kelly.
In 1976, the school community joined the rest of the country in celebrating the nation’s bicentennial. Each classroom teacher planned their own celebration, with students in some classes dressing up in colonial costume. Student Paul Thompson caused quite a sir when he reenacted a short, daytime version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride, with a ride around the school grounds on a real live horse.
The Establishment of Fairhill Center
New construction at Fairhill during 1976 and 1977 prepared the way for the opening of Fairhill Center. While the construction was proceeding, Mr. Claybrook and Clifton Munn, the principal of Belle Willard, arranged for the staff of Fairhill to tour Belle Willard and the staff of Belle Willard to tour Fairhill, in an effort to ease the consolidation of the two school communities.
The Center was officially opened in the spring of 1977. The new addition to the school included six new classrooms (numbers 9, 10, 11, 23, 24, and 25), a new gym, therapy facilities, and a hydrotherapy pool. Approximately 50 students and 15 to 20 staff members moved over to Fairhill from Belle Willard, including current Fairhill Center staff members Faith Lemanski and Larry LeGallo. Mr. Munn became the first principal of the Center.
The Belle Willard School had been limited in important respects. Any mainstreaming of the students required travel to a neighboring elementary school. The Belle Willard students also had to travel to the Joseph Willard Health Center to receive their physical therapy. Now they had a new facility, with a hydrotherapy pool, a music room, and adaptive bathrooms, in a general education elementary school.
Nevertheless, it was a difficult transition from Belle Willard to Fairhill for the Center students and staff. The merging of the two school communities into one, although ultimately successful, would take a considerable amount of time. In the beginning years of the Center, the Center students continued many of their Belle Willard traditions, including wheelchair basketball games, the crowning of a king and queen for Valentine’s Day, and wheelchair washes in the spring. These events faded in time as the two school communities evolved to embrace shared ownership and pride in Fairhill School.
The Later Years
In 1978, R. Lee Padgett became principal of Fairhill. He was succeeded by Kay P. Eckler in 1983. At the Center, Mr. Munn was succeeded briefly by Lynn Lang and then by Harrison S. Morris and Brian M. Hull.
In 1983, the School-Aged Child Care or “SACC” program was opened at Fairhill. Now children of working parents could be supervised after school hours by a professional staff right at Fairhill. The institution of this program reflected basic changes in American society. When Fairhill’s initial self-study was conducted in 1967-68, a survey of Fairhill parents revealed that almost 85% of the mothers of Fairhill students considered themselves as “housewives.” In 1985, less than 40% of U.S. children between the ages of six and seventeen had mothers who were not in the labor force.
Another indication of changes in the 1980s was the opening of the school’s computer lab in 1984. The school’s first lab held five or six Atari computers. All students began attending the lab for instruction one half-hour each week.
Fairhill Today (1991)
Today, Fairhill has approximately 335 general education and 50 Center students. The current principals, Mr. David E. Chubb and Dr. Susan Z. Owner both came to the school during the 1988-89 academic year. The staff consists of approximately 17 general education teachers and instructional assistants and 19 Center teachers, assistants, and attendants. In addition, there is a full staff of specialists in a variety of fields, including reading, speech, music, art, physical education, learning disabilities, and physical and occupational therapy.
The staff is committed to the one-school concept and to providing quality education addressed to the academic and social-emotional needs of each of the students. The curriculum follows state standards and includes instruction in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, music, art, physical education, health, and computer literacy.
The librarian now oversees a collection of 6,000 volumes, with a computerized circulation system and card catalog. Moreover, there is a greatly-expanded reference section and a CD-ROM system, which makes the World Book Encyclopedia and National Geographic’s series on Mammals available on computer. The computer lab houses six Apple computers, with additional Apples available in various classrooms. Laptop computers may be borrowed overnight by fifth and sixth graders. Finally, students with physical disabilities have access to the technology they require at each grade level.
As Fairfax County continues to experience tremendous growth and development, hopefully Fairhill will continue its growth and development. In this manner, the school will maintain its important role in our community for many years to come.
- “The History of Fairhill Elementary School” was based upon the following written sources:
- Fairfax County: A Basic Survey of Educational and Cultural Resources (April 1967)
- Fairfax County Public Schools, A Centennial Chronicle, 1870-1970
- Fairfax County Public Schools 1990-91 Fact Book
- Fairfax County Public Schools Statistical Report, Statistics of the 1965-66 School Year
- Fairfax Schools Bulletin (October 1968)
- Proposals for School Capital Improvement Program (For School Sessions 1964-65; 1965-66; 1966-67) (1963)
- Self-Study Report, Fairhill Elementary School, 1967-68
- School Profiles, Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools, 1986-87
- S.O.S. America! A Children’s Defense Budget (1990)
- Superintendent’s Annual Report to the Fairfax County School Board, 1965-66
In addition, the following individuals shared their time, knowledge, and memories with me: Mary Bacchus, Dave Chubb, Nedra Dibeler, Lalita Hanshaw, Ken Hibbitts, Freddie Kelly, Faith Lemanski, Larry LeGallo, Priscilla Leux, Debbie McDonald, Karen Mock, Clifton Munn, Susan Owner, Nancy Sayers, Sarah Somers, Judy Stewart, Fran Tunick, Jim Wells, Vickie Wiles, and Mary Jo Worthy.
Finally, I would like to that the librarians in the Fairfax County Public Schools Professional Reference Library and in the Virginia Room at the Fairfax City Regional Library for their assistance.