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Charlottesville school name changes on hold

Last month, a committee proposed new names for Charlottesville’s Burnley-Moran and Johnson elementary schools. A month later, it’s back to the drawing board.

Burnley-Moran and Johnson are the second pair of schools to undergo the name review process as the Charlottesville school division proceeds with its plan to review every school name based on modern standards and values.

While plans approved in January to rename Clark Elementary, to Summit, and Venable Elementary, to Trailblazer, will still go forward, the school division said the recommended names for Burnley-Moran and Venable did not pass muster with school officials or the community.

“Charlottesville School Board will vote on affirming a name change for Burnley-Moran and Johnson, but will pause on voting on specific name recommendations to allow the staff and the school communities time to explore other names that are better reflective of the schools’ purpose and place,” the school division said in a statement.

At a March 3 Charlottesville School Board meeting, a renaming committee recommended Burnley-Moran be renamed Blue Mountain Elementary School and Johnson Elementary School be renamed Cherry Avenue Elementary School; Blue Mountain for the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and Cherry Avenue for the street the school sits on.

The names were chosen after the committee determined that the original names, which were derived from local community leaders, were no longer in line with the school division’s mission and values.

“We want to do this in a way that does not disparage anybody,” Charlottesville School Board Member Sherry Kraft said at the meeting where the names were presented.

Sarepta Moran, one half of Burnley-Moran, was one of the first two women to lead a Charlottesville school, having served as the principal of Venable Elementary. She was also an active member in the Albemarle chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Carrie Burnley, the other half, was also among the first female leaders of a Charlottesville school, serving as principal of the former McGuffey School. Burnley was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. As principal of McGuffey, she invited students to decorate the since-removed statues of Confederate generals in downtown Charlottesville.

James G. Johnson served as the superintendent of city schools from 1909 until 1946, while the division was racially segregated.

During the review, the renaming committee considers whether a school needs to have its name changed and consults with students, staff and each school’s community to come up with a new name.

For Burnley-Moran, 61% of respondents to a January community survey expressed some level of support for changing the school’s name. Changing Johnson’s name received less support: 50% of survey respondents said the name should change, while 30% said it should not.

The Charlottesville School Board still intends to hold a vote “affirming the idea of changing these two schools’ names” at its upcoming Thursday meeting.

However, Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Royal Gurley has requested that the “actual selection of the two names” be put on pause, according a school divisions statement.

“The hope is that with further time for reflection, we will find names that more fully align with the guiding principles of purpose and place,” the school division said.

The division described a name with purpose as one that might be “values-driven or aspirational.” Such a name, the division said, would communicate its goal of helping students be their best selves and make the world better.

“The new names for Venable (Trailblazer) and Clark (Summit) demonstrate purpose–inviting students to be trailblazers or to reach new summits.”

A name with place might focus on the school’s own history or its geographic location, the division said.

“Again, at Venable, the name ‘Trailblazer’ honors the school’s history as a site where members of the Charlottesville 12 desegregated our schools. Clark’s mountain views and the fact that it is situated on high ground in Belmont led to the selection of ‘Summit.’”

Charlottesville City Schools officials have said that there was some pushback to specifically the Blue Mountain name for Burnley-Moran, considering the school’s considerable distance to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“It may not be possible to find names for Burnley-Moran and Johnson that combine both purpose and place,” the school division said, “but we would like to slow down the name selection process to give us the best chance of finding lastingly meaningful and fitting names for our schools.”

In the meantime, the school division has said it will consult with horticulturalists and other local experts “who can generate some ideas inspired by plants, trees, or geographical features that are unique or local to Charlottesville.”

Those who are helping to develop the new names also plan to meet with Burnley-Moran and Johnson staff to consider new names.

“Depending on whether each school’s staff emerges with a single recommendation or a few finalist names (or if they need additional time), we will craft a plan moving forward,” the school division said.

Anyone with any names they would like to consider nominating is also encouraged to contact Charlottesville City Schools at

“We received a number of nominations in the initial survey but are still listening. Just remember that the committee has decided against selecting new names that honor people.”


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