When Rock Creek School moves to Walkersville in 2021, its name will remain the same. That wasn’t always certain, however.
The Frederick County Board of Education voted unanimously this week to retain the name after the Walkersville Planning Commission submitted a request last year to change the name to Fountain Rock School.
Former Planning Commission Chairman Richard Brady led the advocacy effort to change the name. His main reasoning was that the name Fountain Rock would fit more with the Walkersville community, since Fountain Rock Park is nearby.
Rock Creek School provides special education to Frederick County students with severe intellectual, physical, emotional, hearing, visual and learning disabilities, from age 3 to 21.
The current school was built in 1972 and is near the Golden Mile in Frederick, on the same campus as Waverley Elementary School.
Due to growing enrollment, the school will be demolished and rebuilt behind Walkersville Middle School in the coming years.
“This was a unique request particularly because it asked for a change to the entire school as opposed to just a portion of the building or grounds,” Paul Lebo, chief operation officer for Frederick County Public Schools, told the Board of Education on Wednesday.
The board was slated to make a final decision on whether to change the name at a work session meeting.
After the letter was submitted by Brady last year, a committee was formed to review the request. The committee was made up of FCPS and Rock Creek School staff and parents.
They met twice in September and November of last year and conducted a survey with the school community.
Michelle Slater, a parent of a student at Rock Creek, sat on the committee. She told the school board that 80 to 90 percent of those surveyed were in favor of keeping the name.
“We’re known as the Rock ... and although I appreciate wanting to be part of another community, and we will embrace that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to change the name,” Slater said.
The committee eventually made a recommendation that the name not be changed.
“The committee’s recommendation highlighted the reputation and history of the program and specifically stated that Rock Creek is a brand and its name should be preserved,” Lebo said.
Brady and others from Walkersville were present at the board’s work session to speak on behalf of changing the name.
“Walkersville has embraced the concept of a new school coming to our community, despite the fact we were not part of the decision-making process for it to be located there,” Brady told the board.
He pointed out that 50 years ago, the name of the school was changed from Harmony School to Rock Creek School when it moved to the city near the actual Rock Creek.
Brady said he and others in Walkersville felt the name should be changed again to follow precedent.
“This should be considered a fresh start by the staff, the students and the alumni,” Brady said.
In the review, the committee asked Frederick County Parks and Recreation staffers if they had any objections to renaming the school “Fountain Rock.”
Lebo said parks and recreation was concerned there would be confusion since they hold programming at both the park and the school.
Brady said he thought more people would be confused by the changed location of the school than anything else.
Sarah Sweeney, a teacher at Rock Creek, said consistency in the school’s name is more important to students than most realize.
“Our students require consistency ... our students that will struggle with the move,” Sweeney said. “If we are able to control at least one aspect of this move, to make it easier on our students, then it’s our responsibility and should always be in the forefront of our minds.”
Most who spoke in favor of keeping the name said that they understood Walkersville’s desire to embrace the school as part of the community, but there is already a strong “Rock” family established.
“Rock Creek is not a building, it is a community, a family,” said Elizabeth List, a teacher at Rock Creek. “Please accept us for who we are. We are Rock Creek School.”
Before voting, school board member Liz Barrett said she was appreciative of Walkersville’s efforts but supported keeping the name.
“It was so wonderful to hear the testimony from the town of Walkersville in a united way about welcoming the school and making sure that the school is a part of the community,” Barrett said. “I think from my perspective, because Rock Creek pulls students from all over the county, it’s not specifically a Walkersville-branded school. It’s a community, county school.”
Board President Brad Young, who lives in Walkersville, agreed.
“While I think it would be nice to incorporate a Walkersville aspect into it, I think we can find a way of doing that without necessarily changing the name,” Young said. “It would hurt me to change the name knowing the attachment and knowing what it means to the families and the staff.”
Katie Buckley, principal of Rock Creek School, said in an email said she appreciates the direction the board took.
“For any school community, it’s not about the building, it’s not about the physical structure, it’s about the community and about the people,” Buckley said. “The name Rock Creek School represents a common understanding, history, and tradition for the students and families it serves.”
The new school is slated to open in the fall of 2021 and will sit on a 27.5-acre site behind Walkersville Middle. The capacity will be 120 students and the new building will include classrooms with wall-to-wall interactive panels, a therapy pool and the first-ever Frederick County recreation center solely designed for students with special needs. The project will cost close to $50 million.