“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” — Shakespeare.
In this quote from Juliet, she confesses she’d love Romeo no matter the school he went to, or what it was called.
But most likely such things will matter to a lot of people in Falls Church, as the process for renaming the high school, formerly George Mason, and elementary school, formerly Thomas Jefferson, has begun in earnest.
The first organizing meetings, held through Zoom, one for the renaming of the high school and one for the renaming of the elementary school, were held last week as the two advisory committees to the F.C. School Board, each made up of about 20 citizen volunteers (out of a whopping total of 77 applicants), convened, went through introductions and the ground rules for moving ahead. The high school group is composed of 20 adults and five students, and the elementary group is made up of 17 adults and four students.
The goal of each group is tasked with coming up with five recommended names to present to the board by April 9, with the final decisions on each to come from votes of the School Board at its scheduled April 13 meeting.
Few issues in otherwise copacetic Falls Church have spurred such strong feelings on both the pro-and-anti name changing sides as this matter. It is clear even from the make-up of the two committees that this is the case.
A number of appointees to the high school renaming group said in their opening comments that they were opposed renaming George Mason High School to begin with, while a number of others made it clear that their dedication to policies of inclusion and non-discrimination, which would have tended in favor of the name changes, were also important factors.
Both groups, however, said to a person that they respected the unanimous decisions of the School Board in December to seek the new names.
(Both George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, albeit heroic Founding Fathers of the United States, were owners of many slaves, and in the “Black Lives Matter” spirit of 2020, were found by the School Board to be wanting as a result, and thus votes in both cases were taken to have their names stricken.
(It should be pointed out in this context that the regents of George Mason University commissioned an extensive study and decided to keep the name, and there are many schools named for Thomas Jefferson who’ve shown no interest in a name change.)
Under the rules the School Board adopted in December for considering new names, the chairs of the respective citizen advisory committees, once established, were appointed by Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan. As a result, Jamie Argento-Rodriguez was named chair of the high school group, and Sherry Witt the chair of the elementary group.
The high school renaming group includes a wide array of diverse citizens, including high school boys soccer coach Frank Spinello and athletic director Marvin Wooten, and veteran day care director, Katie Clinton, and a representative from the student newspaper, The Lasso.
One of the first steps of both groups last week was to announce the creation of a citizen suggestion box on the renaming website, where suggestions can be submitted.
On that website, the following ground rules are spelled out:
- The FCCPS mission statement, which is: “FCCPS is a student-centered, innovative, and inclusive community of lifelong learners. We aspire to be the premier International Baccalaureate school division. We strive to create a personalized environment that supports each child’s unique needs, and prepares every student to be a responsible, caring, and internationally-minded citizen.
- “Both schools will maintain their colors, mascots, and logos. (For the high school: red/white, mustang mascot and logo of the large letter M with mustang inside; For the elementary school: blue/orange, tiger mascot, and logo of tiger inside the circle that will have a new school name around it).
- Per FCCPS policy, no school or school facility will be named for a living individual. Schools may be named for individuals who have been deceased for at least 10 years.
- Schools do not have to be named for people. The Committees invite all name suggestions, including names that contribute to placemaking and other aspects of the community (e.g., Little River High School or Big City Elementary School).
- Suggestions must be received by March 2, 2021, and citizens are free to provide as many suggestions for names as they may like.
The online suggestion box includes a request for a name and a reason why the name is being suggested.
Members of the high school renaming committee are Jamie Argento-Rodriguez, Bill Ackerman, Komal Bazaz Smith, Georgia Brown, Katie Clinton, Vikki Spencer Ehrlich, Lisa M. Gross, Eden Heard, Allison Hyra, Jeff Jordan, Kabir Kamboh, Edwin Kim, Tom Lubnow, Andra Popa, Kristen Ross, Reid Sassman, Elliott Smith, Frank Spinello, Will Stewart, Marvin Wooten and five student representatives.
Members of the elementary school naming committee are Sherry Witt, Aabira Sher Afgan, Brad Allan, Ryan Bourke, Marcellus Davis, Kyle Erickson, Aaron Ford, Bethany Henderson, Julia Huber, Leigh Johnson, Susan Kearney, John D Lawrence, Kathryn Martin, Brannon McLaughlin, Jasyn Polowitz, Will Shorter, Paul G Stankevich and four student members.
All the meetings of the two groups will be streamed live online where the public can tune in.
The next meeting of the high school renaming group will be next Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m., and for the elementary group next Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.