By Allison Hageman | [email protected]
Alexandria City Public SchoolsSuperintendentDr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. recommended T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary be renamed Alexandria High School and Naomi Brooks Elementary School, respectively, at the March 4 School Board meeting.
The two recommended names received the most votes of the six finalists from a recent public poll that ran from Feb. 5 to Feb. 19. The top three picks for T.C. Williams were Alexandria High School at 34.2%, Titan Community High School at 21.26% and Ruth Bader Ginsburg High School at 10.13%. For Matthew Maury Elementary School the top three most popular names were Naomi Brooks Elementary School with 30.46% of the public vote, Rosemont Park Elementary School at 20.72% and Jean Reid Elementary School at 9.36%.
“I am going to allow our community to guide and to educate and to help us select what the appropriate name needed to be for our two schools, so that’s exactly what I did,” Hutchings said.
The discussion to rename T.C Williams High School has been going on for years. It was reignited last summer after the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests that caused renewed calls for social justice nationwide.
In the ensuing months, public criticism drew attention toward the namesakes of not just Thomas Chambliss Williams, the former ACPS superintendent who opposed racial integration in Alexandria, but also Matthew Maury, who served in the Confederate army.
In November, after months of community out-cry, the School Board voted to change the names of the two schools, had a student essay campaign to propose names and created a community poll to get public input. This led to a list of a thousand names, which was narrowed down to nine semi-finalists for each school that include well-known Alexandria residents along with national figures.
At the March 4 meeting, Hutchings said it was difficult to choose a recommendation from the top nine but wanted to be guided by students’ opinions. The name Alexandria High School, Hutchings said, connected with the School Board’s desire to improve racial equity and would connect the school to the city.
“This is the perfect timing in terms of rebranding our city, rebranding our schools, and this was some of the reason Alexandria High School really resonated with a lot of our community members, along with our staff and students,” Hutchings said.
In an essay nomination for the name, one student wrote, “Let’s give recognition to the city where we live, work and grow.”
Lily Fanning, the community outreach and social media director for Students for Renaming T.C. Williams, said that while Alexandria High School isn’t her personal favorite – Blois Hundley High School is – she has heard the name is popular among students. Naming a high school after a person, Fanning said, can lead to unforeseen problems in the future.
“Renaming the school after our community, it allows everyone to be represented because it’s just the name of the city,” Fanning said. “It’s not trying to honor a person. It’s something that covers all the bases.”
Hutchings’ recommendation for renaming Matthew Maury after Naomi Brooks honors a beloved Alexandria resident who went through ACPS and served as a teacher, according to ACPS’ “Redefining Matthew Maury” webpage. Brooks, who died in 2020, was the “dynamic matriarch” of a well-known local family.
“This right here is the epitome of an Alexandrian. She is Black excellence for the city of Alexandria,” Hutchings said.
After Hutchings presented his recommendations, School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan asked about the difference between Alexandria and Alexandria City High School. She also shared more information and emails in support of renaming Matthew Maury after Jean Reid, who was she described as a “teachers’ teacher.”
“I am very excited for the recommendation of Dr. Hutchings as it seems like another incredible woman. I think we are very honored to live in a community where incredible people have been that we want to honor,” Nolan said.
School Board member Jacinta Greene shared thoughts about renaming Matthew Maury after Brooks. Greene, who went to the same church as Brooks, said she was the “epitome of courage.” Brooks’ family attended the virtual School Board meeting, according to Greene.
“This is just a fitting homage to a remarkable woman and I just was so very excited when I saw her name come to the top of the list,” Greene said.
Naomi Brooks was also Fanning’s top choice for re-naming Matthew Maury, but high school students did not discuss the renaming of the elementary school in their classes, according to Fanning.
A public hearing on the renaming of T.C. Williams and Matthew Maury will be held at the virtual School Board meeting on March 18. The School Board will vote on new names on April 8 and names are set to be implemented by July 1.