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Cedar Rapids school board approves new names for two elementary schools


Rendering of West Willow Elementary (formerly Coolidge Elementary), 6225 First Ave. SW. — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Community School District

When getting input from Cedar Rapids students and families of what the new Coolidge and Jackson elementaries should be named, Jackson’s principal Nick Duffy said there was a “common theme” in the suggestions — the August derecho.

“Given that we had experienced a significant natural disaster this summer in the wake of the derecho and the loss of a high percentage of our community’s tree canopy and given the topography and the park-like settings around our buildings, … the connection to the natural world and our resilience as a community was then highlighted by the names that were suggested by our students, our staff and our community,” Duffy said.

Coolidge Elementary will be renamed West Willow Elementary, and Jackson Elementary will be Maple Grove Elementary. The Cedar Rapids Board of Education approved the names during its board meeting on Monday.

The rebuilding of the two elementary schools is part of the first phase of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s Facilities Master Plan. Once both the new schools are opened, the district plans to close and repurpose Truman.

West Willow will be open in time for the 2021-22 school year. Construction on Maple Grove Elementary is expected to start this spring, with the school being open in time for the 2022-23 school year, according to the district.

The derecho caused some damage to the construction, which resulted in about a month delay, the district said.

The Facilities Master Plan was unanimously approved by the school board in January 2018 and is expected to take 20 to 25 years to complete. The focus is on making the facilities safer and ADA compliant, and improving the learning experience for both teachers and students.

The plan identifies three categories for Cedar Rapids’ elementary schools: closed, renovated, and torn down and replaced.

Ten will be torn down and replaced: Arthur, Cleveland, Coolidge, Erskine, Harrison, Hoover, Jackson, Johnson, Pierce and Wright. Three — Grant, Hiawatha and Viola Gibson — will be renovated. Eight will be closed: Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood Leadership Academy, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren.

There are no plans to demolish Truman or any other of the closed-down schools, Superintendent Noreen Bush said last March.

The process to arrive at the new names was a “strong collaborative effort,” said Eric Christenson, the district’s executive director of elementary schools.

In-person and remote students received a lesson in November about coming up with a valuable name that would “stand the test of time,” Coolidge’s principal Greg O’Connell said.

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Students were then able to submit names through a Google form. Staff, families and the community were also able to submit responses. The district received 532 responses for the new Coolidge Elementary, and 887 responses for the new Jackson Elementary.

“I know I speak on behalf of the entire board of education — love the process, love hearing how you put kids in the middle of this process,” David Tominsky, the board’s vice president, said. “People often ask, ‘How do you name these types of things?’ And what better way to do it than with the people that are going to be inside these buildings every day and know those communities.”


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