School Board Adopts Superintendent’s Recommendation to Move Schools

In 2019 APS unveiled two planning proposals that explored moving some elementary schools (including ATS) in 2021-22 to address challenges before the Fall 2020 Elementary School Boundary Process begins.

At its Feb. 6, 2020 meeting, the Arlington School Board adopted, by a vote of 4-1, the Superintendent’s recommendation to move three schools as part of the Elementary School Planning Process for the 2021-22 school year. The adopted plan includes moving the majority of McKinley students to the new school at the Reed site; the Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program to the current McKinley building, and the Key Immersion program to the current ATS building. This recommendation will repurpose the current Key building into a new neighborhood school in a rapidly growing part of the county where APS needs more capacity for students. [Read News Release]

On November 13, 2019, the ATS PTA sent a letter to the School Board with questions and concerns about the school move proposals.

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To access the presentation given at the November 5, 2019 ATS PTA meeting, click here: ATS PTA Elementary Planning Process Update.

Other resources include: What’s Traditional About ATS, ATS Traditional History Lesson, ATS Blue Ribbon Application 2019 Executive Summary, and ATS 2019 Blue Ribbon Application.

ATS Named Blue Ribbon School.   We are thrilled to share with the broad community of ATS families and friends that last week, the U.S. Department of Education named ATS a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School based on its overall exemplary academic performance. Our school is one of only 362 schools nationwide, and one of only seven public elementary schools in Virginia, to receive this prestigious honor. This is the third time since 2004 that ATS has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon School. For additional information, please read the official news release from Arlington Public Schools.

What’s “Traditional” about Arlington Traditional School (ATS)?

“Teaching methods change. New Principals come along. We do not swing with that pendulum. We stay right here…” focused on basic education built on a student-teacher-parent partnership. —Holly Hawthorne, ATS Principal since 1992

ATS is a nationally-recognized countywide elementary school celebrating student diversity from all Arlington neighborhoods representing over 25 countries. Established in 1978 as “Page Traditional School” (but renamed in 1995), ATS began as a “back-to-basics,” structured alternative to the mid-1970s’ fad of open-space, multi-grade level classrooms.  Over forty years later, as the pendulum has swung away from open-space classrooms to other experiments in pedagogy, ATS continues its tradition of excellence with a simple formula for success: Academics, Behavior, Character, i.e., the ABC’s.

At ATS, students learn these ABC’s by design – not by chance – with a traditional approach to education characterized by the following:

  • Emphasis on reading, writing, and arithmetic, with an annual celebration of Reading Carnival Day and Summer Reading Challenge;
  • One classroom teacher for all core subjects in self-contained classrooms, allowing a teacher to adjust to each child’s interests and abilities across subject matters;
  • Regular, meaningful homework and weekly progress reports sent home at all grade levels, building a student-teacher-parent partnership to promote grade level mastery;
  • High standards for adherence to behavior and dress codes, teaching personal responsibility and creating an orderly, quiet learning environment for all;
  • Weekly school-wide assemblies where all students participate in choreographed theatrical productions, building school spirit in the ATS community;
  • All students begin learning musical instruments in 4th grade (choral, band, orchestra);
  • All 5th graders serve as Safety Patrols in service to their ATS school community; and
  • The school colors, blue and gold, signify the importance of individual achievement and the Golden Rule.

With this focus on teaching the ABC’s, ATS has demonstrated consistent excellence in closing gaps in student achievement so that all students are engaged, educated, and empowered to succeed. As a result, ATS has repeatedly received state and national recognition, including being named a Blue Ribbon School (twice!), and held up as a model for other public schools in newspaper articles and books (see below).

ATS History video (YouTube)


National Blue Ribbon School, 2004, 2012, 2019

#1 Public Elementary School in VA and DC Metropolitan Area (, 2016-17

Governors Award for Educational Excellence, 2008-12, 2017-18

Virginia Board of Education Distinguished Achievement Award, 2016

Virginia Board of Education Excellence Award, 2013-2015

National Schools of Character (finalist), 2007, 2008

Parent Involvement School of Excellence, 2006

Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award and APS Principal of the Year, 2005-2006

News Articles/Books: 

“Hope Spreads Through Education,” The Arlington Connection front page (2015)

Old School,” Arlington Magazine premier edition feature article (2011)

On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, by Samuel Casey Carter (Ch. 8 “Arlington Traditional School: Arlington, Virginia”) (2011)

“Learning Experience,” Washington Post Magazine, feature article (2006)

“Why Don’t Public Schools Give Parents What They Want?” Cato Institute (2014)

“‘Traditional’ Va. schools find themselves in high demand as they eschew experimentation,” Washington Post (2014)