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City schools rename Venable and Clark

Venable Elementary School will soon be called Trailblazers Elementary School, and Clark Elementary School has been renamed to Summit Elementary School.

The Charlottesville City School Board voted 6-1 on Venable’s renaming, and 5-2 on Clark’s during a Thursday night meeting. City schools spokesperson Beth Cheuk said she was unsure of when the new names would become effective but said it would be August 2023 at the earliest.

“This process is extremely complicated and fraught with a lot of opinions and emotion,” said board member Sherry Kraft.

Venable’s new name, Trailblazers, honors those who led the fight to desegregate Charlottesville schools and encourages students to “continue blazing new trails,” according to city schools. Summit refers to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are visible from Clark, as well as evoking the idea of students striving for excellence.

“Personally, I think [the name Trailblazers] is kind of dumb,” said board member Jennifer McKeever, who voted against Venable’s renaming. Lashundra Bryson Morsberger and Dom Morse voted in opposition to Clark’s renaming.

The Naming of Facilities Committee, created in the fall of 2020, gave the school board recommendations for renaming Clark and Venable Elementary School in December 2022. Older elementary school students voted on new names in November, and chose Trailblazers for Venable and Friendship for Clark by a small margin, according to a Nov. 30, 2022 online update from the division.

Clark staff said they wanted to delay a vote on the school’s new name, according to committee head Beth Baptist, but did not say why. Clark staff did say they preferred Summit over Friendship.

“I’m just not sure what more information is needed,” said board member Lisa Larson-Torres.

The naming committee did not ask that the school board vote on renaming Clark since Friendship Elementary won over Summit Elementary by so few votes, Cheuk said. Instead, it suggested the board “review the updated information regarding Clark” and vote or decide on next steps. The board voted anyway.

Clark Elementary School’s namesake was George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War general born in Albemarle County who would burn houses and crops after attacks on Shawnee villages during the Northwest Indian War.

Venable Elementary School was named for Charles S. Venable, a Confederate officer and aide-de-camp to Gen. Robert E. Lee. He later was a professor at UVa and a city School Board member, according to an analysis by community historian Phil Varner, who has researched the namesakes.

Clark and Venable were the first schools to undergo review. The division hopes to finish the renaming review process for the rest of its elementary schools by the end of the school year. It will then consider whether Walker Upper Elementary, Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High School should be renamed during the 2023-2024 academic year.


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