Learn about the history of Franklin Sherman Elementary School
A School of Many Firsts
Franklin Sherman Elementary School is a neighborhood school with historic ties to Fairfax County. The school opened in 1914 as the county’s first consolidated public school. Prior to this time, children attended one room “field schools”, so called because they were located in fields no longer being used for agricultural purposes. It was the revolutionary idea of Captain Franklin Sherman, a member of the school board, to build a school that would accommodate the 29 children attending the local area’s “field schools”. He claimed that it would “probably be one of the finest Rural District School Houses in the state." Unfortunately, Captain Sherman died during the school’s first year. After his death, the community named the school Franklin Sherman.
On October 19, 1914, a two-story, six-room school in the Providence School District of Fairfax County opened its doors to 29 students. From its inception, it was futuristic in its design and philosophy. Prior to this time, publicly funded “free schools” were available only for orphans and children of indigent parents in single-room log “old field houses,” so called because they were located in fields no longer being used for agricultural purposes. Franklin Sherman, a member of the Providence School District of Fairfax County, had to overcome strong parental objections in order to gain support to merge four small “field” schools located in the Langley, Lewinsville, Chesterbrook and Spring Hill areas into the county’s first consolidated public school. With limited public funding and many grades (elementary and secondary) planned for one building, parents were afraid that their children would not get an adequate education. Besides, the rural communities believed that the one-room elementary schools had served them well.
Captain Sherman, in his letter of July 23, 1914, to solicit Miss Charlotte Troughton (who later married Mr. T.M. Corner) as the school’s first principal, wrote that the school “was planned more for our future needs than to present necessities.” He claimed that it would “probably be one of the finest Rural District School Houses in the state.” Unfortunately, Captain Sherman died during the first year of the school and did not live to see his prophecy fulfilled. After his death, the community named the school Franklin Sherman.
In addition to becoming the county’s first consolidated public school, it was also the first school in the state to become integrated. It was also the first public school in the state to operate a school bus system. A parent, Orris Gantt, began to transport his children and others in the Langley and Lewinsville areas in his Model T Ford. When there wasn’t enough room for the students to ride inside, they reportedly hung on standing on the running board. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lou Magarity bought a school bus and drove the students.
In 1915, parents and teachers began meeting regularly in an empty upstairs room of the school. These meetings developed into the first Parent Teacher Association in Fairfax County. One of the PTA’s early projects was to organize a school health program. McLean’s only doctor enlisted in the Second World War. As a result, many children either came to school with communicable diseases or missed many days of school. In 1942-43 the PTA adopted a health program that “worked toward discovering the mental, emotional and physical problems of each child and tried to resolve those found so that each child would be free to develop to the limits of his capacity.” The Franklin Sherman School Project, “A Parent-Teacher-Association Experiment,” became a model for the rest of Fairfax County and a guide for fifteen other counties in Virginia. As a result of this program, the State Board set up a requirement for a dental examination in addition to the physical examination for school attendance.
The first “McLean Days” (1915), organized by the McLean School and Civic League, Inc., were held on the Civic League lot, adjacent to the school, with the proceeds going to support Franklin Sherman School and other community projects. That same year, an empty upstairs room was turned over to the McLean Library Association and converted into a community library. Miss Troughton served as the librarian after school hours. Parents and teachers began to meet there regularly. These meetings developed into the first PTA in Fairfax County, and this group took the lead in forming a County Federation of PTAs. In later years, when the school occupied all six rooms of the school, children enjoyed going down the tubular fire chute exiting from one of the upstairs rooms onto the playground.
In the early years children brought bag lunches to school, went home for lunch, or went across the way to H.A. Storm’s general store/post office. He served the students hot soup from the kitchen and, since no one carried money, charged it to their parents’ accounts. In the 40’s, as a part of the health program, the PTA began serving cereal in the mornings for all who needed it upon arrival at school, a mid-morning snack for all first and second graders, a complete lunch for those wishing to purchase lunch, and hot soup for everyone. With the implementation of the extensive health program, it was stated that “a long stride had been taken toward making this a child-centered school.”
In 1964 the old building on Corner Lane was retired as a high school facility, as grades one through six were already housed in the new building constructed in 1952 on Brawner Street. In 1971 the old Franklin Sherman building was razed. Today the school is housed in a building that was built in 1952. However, an extensive renovation of the school was completed in 2010. The school, which opened in 1914 with only 29 native born children, now serves a community enriched by a marvelous international population of students in preschool through grade six.
Franklin Sherman Cherry Trees
The beautiful flowering cherry trees in front of Franklin Sherman have a special significance. These trees were planted in memory of Seiji Tanetani by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Seizo Tanetani. Seiji died in McLean June 19, 1957, while his father was first Secretary of the Embassy of Japan. Although Seiji was too young to be a Franklin Sherman student, he often played on the school grounds.
A letter found in the archives of Franklin Sherman was written to the PTA by Mr. Tanetani in 1969 when he was Consul General in Sydney, Australia. The letter includes:“Both my wife and I are sincerely grateful to you and the people of McLean for their cherishing the beauty of the cherry trees planted in memory of my son, Seiji who died twelve years ago. The photographs have brought back to me a thousand happy memories of the days which we had together with the people of McLean.Truly McLean is the place where my children spent the happiest days of their childhood. Nature was so beautiful and the people were so nice and kind to us.This is the place where we have formed our image of America and Americans - so close to our hearts. It is indeed a great joy and comfort to know that the cherry blossoms of the trees in the Franklin Sherman School are providing the most beautiful sight in all McLean. Your sympathies are most deeply appreciated by my wife and myself. Would you please convey our best wishes to the members of the Parent Teacher Association of the Franklin Sherman Elementary School.”