Following Tuesday night’s unanimous vote by the City of Falls Church School Board to change the names of two of its schools — those named for Founding Fathers who owned slaves — Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan issued the following communique Wednesday to “FCCPS Families and the Community,” which we reprint here in full:
Noonan Statement on School Name Changes
Dear FCCPS Families and Community,
Last night the School Board voted 7-0 to rename both TJ and GMHS. The action was not taken lightly. The decision reflects the Board’s overall belief that we must respect and uphold the dignity of every student, staff member, and community member in FCCPS so they too can achieve in a system unbridled from the legacy of slavery, discrimination, and systemic oppression.
When I arrived in FCCPS nearly four years ago, I shared with the staff, students, families, and community what my four pillars, or core values, were and continue to be. They are: Be innovative, Be collaborative, Be ethical, Ensure equity and excellence for all students.
Being an ethical leader charged with ensuring equity and excellence for all students means that I must work to ensure that all students feel valued, are seen and treated as equals, regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability, gender, gender identity, social class, or creed. In collaboration with so many, including fellow educators, community leaders, and students, like the school board, I, too, have listened intently to and learned from those most impacted by the name change. To be sure, the issues are complex and multifaceted. But now is the time to hold space for our Black colleagues, students, and community members and affirm their dignity and calls to put our nation’s stain of slavery and human bondage in its proper place — not embodied by our school’s namesakes, but included in the pages of our history books.
Consider just one narrative here: Recently, the school board heard from a parent faced with a choice. Send her Black child to TJES, a public school named after the person who held her ancestors as property as an enslaved person, or to a private school she could ill afford. For her daughter’s well-being, she scraped together the funds and chose the private option. Empirical evidence suggests that if a student is uncomfortable or feels unsafe in their learning environment, that student is at a disadvantage in the learning process. We can no longer put our students, staff, and community members of color in a position where they feel unsafe or disadvantaged.
For some, the renaming of schools may seem performative, but I assure you it reflects our division’s deep work. We have spent several years in dialogue and reflection about racial equity and justice and have been implementing systemic changes to reflect our commitments to educational excellence for all. Not changing the names at this juncture would be incongruent with whom we have become as a system and a people.
Moving forward, we will continue to revise and restructure curriculum through an equity lens, we will continue with our professional learning with respect to equity, we will offer for the first time a course on African American History at the high school, we will continue to hone our hiring and retention practices to support a broad representation of people of color in FCCPS, and yes…we will continue to tell the history of Thomas Jefferson and George Mason in its entirety.
Moving forward, I invite all of us to continue to be reflective, thoughtful, and caring towards each other, towards our students, staff, and community. And particularly those people of color who have endured systemic trauma in their lives, during this pandemic, and during this movement for racial justice in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, and too many other Black people. We must show in actions and deeds that we continue to walk towards justice and build communities where all people can live with dignity, free from discrimination, and systemic oppression.
Now is the time.