Charlottesville City Schools will begin a review of the names of Clark and Venable elementaries next week with a virtual public meeting.
The superintendent’s committee on facility names chose those schools to begin reviewing all city school building names because they are the oldest. The committee doesn’t have a set timeline for the review process, though it ultimately will make a recommendation regarding whether to change the schools’ names. All schools will be reviewed in chronological order, division officials have previously said.
The public meeting is the second phase of a review process outlined by the naming committee, which convened last fall. Committee members updated the School Board on their plans at the board’s April 1 meeting.
The 25-member committee is made up of parents, principals, teachers and other community members. Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins formed the committee in September.
“We didn’t pick them first for any other reason,” said Beth Baptist, coordinator of special projects and Career and Technical Education, at the April 1 meeting. “So we want to really look at it, and if we’re still working on this this time next year, then we’re still going to be working on it this time next year for these schools or whatever schools. We want to get it right.”
Baptist said the committee wanted to start with two schools to ensure they have the capacity to thoroughly look at the history of the schools and their namesakes.
“And also to make sure that the community has ample time to give us input,” she said. “Because we thought if we sent out 30 names at once, it could overwhelm, and we want to make sure we do it right.”
Monday’s meeting will begin at 5 p.m. with an overview of the process and the schools’ namesakes and then participants will break out into two groups for further discussion. For more information and to sign up, go to charlottesvilleschools.org/school-names.
For several years, community members have called on the division to review and change the names of city schools. The Albemarle County school division has been steadily working to review schools named for individuals since late 2018. Since then, four schools have undergone a review and three names have changed.
Clark Elementary is named for Revolutionary War Gen. George Rogers Clark, who was born in Albemarle County. Last fall, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors supported the removal of the Clark statue on Grounds.
Venable Elementary is 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.
Of the 10 school buildings, eight are named after people. However, several school names reference more than one person, so there are 11 namesakes — most of whom are former teachers and school administrators. Some have ties to the Confederacy, the United Daughters of the Confederacy or segregated schools.
Clark is the only school namesake that doesn’t have a connection to the city school division, according to Varner’s research.
Baptist said at the April 1 meeting that the committee used Varner’s research as a starting point.
“As I read that, I learned a lot about the names of our buildings that I had no idea about, and I’ve been associated with the buildings for quite a few years,” Baptist said.
The first phase of the committee’s work entailed developing a plan for naming reviews by looking at other neighborhoods and school divisions and picking what would work best in Charlottesville.
Phase two will include historical research on the school namesakes and receiving community input through surveys and focus groups, said Monica Blair, a doctoral history student at UVa who is working with the committee.
“So, for instance, members of the Charlottesville 12 are important for this process, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, other community partners like that, and certain parent boards at the schools,” Blair said. “We want to make sure we are trying to get the feedback of people who are really affected by these issues of equity in the naming of these schools.”
Following that process, the committee will make a recommendation to the School Board along with presenting the historical information and input. The third phase is gathering community input about a new name.
If the committee and School Board decides to rename Clark and Venable, Blair said they would go through the process of selecting new names before moving on to review other schools.
“For new names, we want to make sure that we do our due diligence on the new potential names,” Blair said. “So we want to make sure also that if we do decide to rename schools, that we make sure we really get broad community input and do historical research on whatever name we might choose going forward.”
Board members appreciated the April 1 presentation and the committee’s work so far.
“I’m excited that we are moving forward and that you guys have done all of this great work creating this process, which I know will bring in meaningful public comment and provide transparency and stakeholder voice, so I thank you very much,” board member Jennifer McKeever said at that meeting. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am, especially in light of all of the other things that this division is working on right now.”
Board member Sherry Kraft said the name reviews are important for the entire Charlottesville community.
“I think it is deeply meaningful, especially given what the city is going through now and has been for the past few years in our own reckoning with our past,” she said.