Board votes to rename middle and high schools

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Board votes to rename middle and high schools
Alexandria City High School. (File Photo)
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By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]

Following months of discussion, the Alexandria School Board voted unanimously at its April 8 meeting to rename T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School as Alexandria City High School, and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School, respectively.

The new school names are slated for implementation on July 1.

“This process was a very intensive and extensive process, to say the least, [so] I just want to say hats off to our students, as well as to Mr. [Peter] Balas who was leading our high school and allowing our students to have that voice,” Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. said. “Your voice is power, and this is really an example of the power your voice can have.”

Although the renaming process didn’t begin until last summer, community members have been insisting on change for years and questioning the legacies of the men who have served as namesakes for the schools. Thomas Chambliss Williams was a former ACPS superintendent who supported segregation, and Matthew Maury was a Confederate naval officer.

The mounting pressure for change grew in June 2020 after the death of George Floyd, when Alexandria community members galvanized in the fight for racial justice and eventually pushed the School Board toward the decision to rename both schools.

While board members were unified in their support for the reason behind changing both names, the April 8 meeting involved a semi-lengthy discussion about what exactly those names should be.

This comes months after the board’s initial November decision to approve name changes for both schools. The search for a name began with a student essay campaign and community poll to gauge public input. More than 1,000 names were whittled down to nine semi-finalists for each school, ranging from national figures to well-known Alexandria residents.

Community members voted for six name options in a public poll that ran from Feb 5. to Feb. 19. For T.C. Williams the top three options included Alexandria High School, which received 34.2% of the public vote, Titan Community High School at 21.26% and Ruth Bader Ginsburg High School at 10.13%. For Matthew Maury Elementary School these included Naomi Brooks Elementary School at 30.46%, Rosemont Park Elementary School at 20.72% and Jean Reid Elementary School at 9.36%.

Hutchings initially recommended changing T.C. Williams to Alexandria High School at the March 4 Board meeting based on the poll results.

Board member Ramee Gentry pointed out last Thursday that multiple community members expressed interest in preserving the letters ‘T’ and ‘C’ so as to maintain continuity as well as a thread of connection between past, current and future students.

“[But that] would still be in some ways harkening back to T.C. Williams, and the whole point of this is that we want to do something new,” Gentry said.

Instead of keeping T.C., the School Board agreed on upholding the Titan name – a legacy which student board member Lorraine Johnson said “hasn’t changed.” Johnson originally voted to change the name to Titan Community High School.

“Through Thomas Chambliss, through the ‘Remember the Titans’ days, we all remained Titans,” said Johnson. “Throughout all of Alexandria’s history and this high school we have now, the only thing that stayed constant was the Titan mascot, the Titan pride and the Titan name. I thought it would be nice to keep the T.C. part, except that now it would stand for Titan Community [and keep] us connected in that way.”

It was also suggested that the word “city” be incorporated into the new name to differentiate between Alexandria as a whole and Alexandria City, thus mitigating potential future confusion.

One option for this included changing the name to City of Alexandria High School, which resident and ACPS alum Hal Cardwell expressed support of during public comment. He pointed out that many longtime residents call Alexandria simply “the city,” and that by adding “the city of” to the name, longtime residents could continue to refer to the high school as T.C.

“No one in the know ever called T.C. ‘Williams High School.’ With this subtle change, the community would have more choices of how to refer to our unitary high school: Alexandria, the city, T.C., or the full name,” said Cardwell. “Think of the marketing opportunities.”

He also said that this name change provides an opportunity for future generations to learn about the city’s history.

“Now we have a teachable moment to talk about Alexandria, its history, about racism, and about change – what change is, how it happens, how far we’ve come, and what still needs to be done,” Cardwell said.

Board members, however, generally agreed this was too long. Board member Christopher Suarez said the name Alexandria City High School, alternatively, would provide a “certain level of comfort” for community members who want to co-opt the “T.C.” as “Titan Community” for athletic branding and logos.

“That might be a way to rectify some of the procedural concerns, but at the same time, give the student body flexibility to preserve the T.C. in branding aspects,” Suarez said, emphasizing that the two identities don’t have to be “mutually exclusive.”

T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas, who supported the Alexandria City High School name change, encouraged replacing the T.C. logos with A.C., which he said still “slips off the tongue.”

“I’m a little concerned about a move to preserve the letters ‘T’ and ‘C’ in the name in some way without having further engagement of our students,” Balas said.

Discussion around renaming the elementary school was more straightforward. Originally called Matthew Maury Elementary School, the new title, Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School, is named after a beloved Alexandria teacher who passed away in 2020.

An Alexandria native, Naomi Lewis Brooks graduated from Parker-Gray High School and was the first in her family to go to college.

“She not only touched lives here in the city of Alexandria, she touched the lives of students all over the world,” Hutchings said. “She’s the epitome of Black excellence for Alexandria.”

Although Hutchings’ recommendation was to change the name to Naomi Brooks Elementary School, the family of Naomi Brooks requested that an “L” be placed in the middle, as that was how Brooks signed her name.

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