Alexandria, VA

After a unanimous vote at the Alexandria School Board meeting last night, the names T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School were voted out — with the replacements still to be decided.

Over the next few months, the School Board will seek public feedback before settling on a new pair of names. The new names will be chosen by the Board in the spring and go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I’m excited for this moment,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who recently threw his name in among supporters of the change. “It’s finally here. On behalf of our students: this is a historic moment for everybody. For many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams in particular changed… I want to commend the Board for allowing us to be able toe explore and get information from our community.”

T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

“We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to honor,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “The names were selected not because of their accomplishments, but as declarations of our community values in 1929 and in 1962. We have an opportunity to right that wrong.”

While the School Board members unanimously supported, others acknowledged that the symbolic change is far from the end of the discussion about eliminating vestiges of racism in the school infrastructure.

“T.C. and Maury no longer reflect who we are as a society, at least in Alexandria,” School Board member Heather Thornton said. “This is a symbolic step. Changing the name of T.C. is not going to do anything to eliminate systemic racism and barriers. It’s not going to solve anything. I hope people stay engaged and know this is a first step, but there are many things we need to have community engaged on.”

Thornton also pointed to disproportionality in suspension rates and graduation rates as lingering reminders of inequality in Alexandria City Public Schools, topics discussed later in the meeting.

“We can change the name all we want,” Thornton said, “but if we don’t change foundational issues I don’t think we will really achieve what we’re hoping to achieve as a school division.”

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Heading into a School Board vote on Nov. 23, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings had thrown his support in with those supporting changing the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

Hutchings explained his support for the name change in an opinion piece in Tes, an educator trade magazine.

“Inexplicably, it has taken until today, 55 years since the school opened, to see a committed renaming process that may finally remove him and his legacy from the only public high school in Alexandria, a small but influential Virginia city in the shadow of Washington, D.C.” Hutchings wrote.

The announcement comes after a presentation on Monday by The Identity Project, an initiative formed by ACPS to examine the issue. The project gathered community feedback from students, faculty and alumni, which found that 75% of responders agreed with changing the name.

T.C. Williams High School is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, a superintendent who fought against integrating schools. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after Confederate leader and oceanographer Matthew Maury.

“On Nov. 23, 2020, the School Board will vote on whether or not to change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “This comes after the start of The Identity Project, an extensive community discussion, which culminated in a presentation to the School Board (PDF) this past Monday, Nov. 16. In this presentation, Superintendent Dr. Hutchings presented his recommendation for the School Board to approve changing the names of both schools.”

In his essay, Hutchings references petitions that circulated around Alexandria earlier this year to get the name changed.

“In August, when I was informed that a petition with the requisite number of 100 signatures from anyone in the Alexandria community to begin the conversation had been submitted, I remember thinking this was our carpe diem moment,” Hutchings wrote. “Soon after, a second petition was submitted to change the name of one of our division’s elementary schools named after Matthew Maury, an oceanographer who also happened to be a Confederate who lobbied for the Confederacy in Europe, attempted to negotiate a slave trade with Brazil, and encouraged those with like-minded beliefs to migrate to Mexico following the civil war.”

Hutchings also recognized complaints from members of the community that things weren’t moving quickly enough.

“In the weeks and days that followed those submissions, there was frustration in our highly diverse school community — which comprises families from 120 countries speaking 121 languages — that things were not moving quickly enough,” Hutchings said. “But from where I stood, there was much work to be done to ensure a transparent, thorough and fair public engagement process.”

Hutchings didn’t include a recommendation for what the new name would be, a process likely to follow in early 2021 if the name change is approved.

“Later this month, the school board will vote on whether to change those two school names,” Hutchings said. “Among the suggestions circulating as alternatives are Boone-Yoast High School, named after coach Hermon Boone and assistant coach Bill Yoast from that famous ’71 football team, and Nolan Dawkins High School after the first African American judge in our city’s history. Other suggestions have included simply Alexandria High School.”

Both Boone-Yoast and Nolan Dawkins could generate their own controversies, with Boone’s role in the integration of T.C. Williams agreed to be somewhat exaggerated and Dawkins facing some public pushback earlier this year after it was revealed that the suspect in a murder had been out on bond approved by Dawkins.

Image via ACPS

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The City of Alexandria is planning to host a series of meetings to discuss work being done to promote racial and social equity in the city. The discussions will culminate with a resolution going to City Council.

“Alexandria is committed to race and social equity through collaboration among City departments, employees, community members, nonprofit partners and other stakeholders to implement a framework that ensures City policy decisions and practices advance race and social equity,” the city said. “The City’s commitment and efforts moving forward require inclusion, input and ideas from every part of the community.”

The city hosted town halls this summer discussing changing policies and concerns about systemic racism in policing. City leadership remains divided over plans to implement a Community Police Review Board.

The focus on recognizing and addressing racial injustice issues in Alexandria over the last year has led to initiatives, including a committee researching lynchings in the city and the hiring of the city’s first Race and Social Equity Officer Jaqueline Tucker.

The engagement sessions are scheduled for:

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The deadline is 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday (October 28) for the community to weigh in on a survey on whether Alexandria City Public Schools should change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The survey is part of the renaming process for both schools, and the school board will officially vote next month on whether to change the names.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond.

According to ACPS, “One of the ways that we can move forward is by acknowledging our own history, while refusing to allow that history to define who we currently are as a school division in the present.”

The short survey asks whether respondents “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree” on having a good understanding of Williams and Maury, and whether they agree on a name change. The survey also asks for your zip code and relation to ACPS, whether as a student, staffer, parent or community partner.

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Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, one of the student representatives on the Alexandria School Board, reported that she was called the n-word in an online forum discussing race in Alexandria City Public Schools.

The school system is in the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and the October 7 student forum was the second conversation on where ACPS stands in regard to racial issues.

The student was called the slur in a chat comment during the online conversation.

“I feel it’s necessary to address what occurred during the second student conversation, which was unacceptable and extremely hurtful,” Sanchez-Viafara told the School Board on Thursday. “We need to make tremendous changes within ACPS, because that was not acceptable, and no student should have to confront something as mentally and physically wounding as that.”

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the end of the meeting that ACPS must be relentless and unapologetic in getting the renaming work done.

“We have to stand tall, and we have to look past that and we have to understand that there are still some people out there that are just ignorant,” Hutchings told the Board.

Helen Lloyd, the ACPS executive director of communications, said that the comment was not made by a student, and that it was a person with a personal grievance against the school system.

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Morning Notes

City Recommends Staying Home for the Holidays — “The safest way to enjoy the holidays while COVID-19 remains in the community is to find ways to celebrate at home… For everyone’s safety, the CDC recommends quarantining for 14 days following all travel.” [City of Alexandria]

Voter Registration Deadline is Approaching — “There’s currently no line to vote at the Office of Voter Registration and Elections (132 N. Royal St.)! This option is available to all registered voters in Alexandria through Oct. 31. For days, times, other locations, and other voting options, visit alexandriava.gov/1720.” [Twitter]

Beyer Criticizes Trump for Not Wearing Face Mask — “Trump won’t say when he last tested negative for COVID-19. He won’t say if he is testing negative now. He’s about to start traveling across the country, holding huge rallies. #SuperSpreaderInChief” [Twitter]

Foundation Fitness Moves to New Location in Del Ray — “Attention!!! We have a new neighbor and we are pumped about it! Foundation Fitness has moved on down the road to a new UPGRADED space at 1901B Mount Vernon Ave. Go check it out tomorrow at their grand re-opening from 1-3pm! Don’t miss out on raffles, refreshments and special discounts!” [Facebook]

ACPS Hosts Third Community Read-In on T.C. Williams High School History — “Tune in to learn the real story behind “Remember the Titans” — riots, protests, systemic injustice, and a civil rights crisis in Alexandria, alongside the merger of our black and white high schools, our integration plan, and a winning football team.” [Facebook]

Watch: Fire Department Holds Virtual Wreath Laying Ceremony — “The Alexandria Fire Department, Ivy Hill Cemetery Historical Preservation Society and the Friendship Veterans Fire Association host the 50th Annual Ivy Hill Memorial Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony to honor the men and women of the Alexandria Fire Department who have died in the line of duty and members who have passed in the last 12 months.” [Youtube]

COVID-19 U.S. Honor Quilt on Display at Del Ray Artisans — “Help build HOPE by creating your own 10.5″x 10.5″ panel to add to HOPE sign and to be joined to the quilt. Free panel squares and information pamphlets are available in the entryway of the gallery. All media is fine. No sewing required. The art panels will be copied onto vinyl for display.” [Facebook]

Naomi Wadler’s Scarf is in the Smithsonian’s ‘Girlhood’ Exhibit — “The “two-movie scarf” became Naomi Wadler’s signature, and Naomi wore it during her history-making moment when the then fifth grader exploded on the national scene during the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Areas of patchy fog early. Considerable clouds early. Some decrease in clouds later in the day. High 72F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph. A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 49F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Customer Experience Manager — “Responsible for leading Front End Operations.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Denounces Trump’s Sunday Drive-By — “Why did they approve it? What precautions were taken? Who else did they interact with? The continuing lack of transparency from the White House is unsustainable and dangerous.” [Twitter]

Mayor Congratulates After Successful Flu Clinic — “Thanks to our Health Dept, @AlexandriaVAPD @AlexandriaVAFD @AlexVASheriff & our Medical Reserve Corps volunteers for administering another 962 flu vaccines today (1,802 at 2 clinics) in an extremely well-organized operation. Get vaccinated, Alexandria!” [Twitter]

Second Virtual Read-In on T.C. Williams’ Racist Past This Thursday — “Who was T.C. Williams and what was his impact on our students decades ago? What does T.C. Williams the high school represent today? See the highlights from our first Community Read-In: T.C. Williams the Superintendent.” [Facebook]

Councilwoman Jackson Shares Mom’s Breast Cancer Story — “My mother received her breast cancer diagnosis during my sophomore year of high school – she was 46 years old. Young. Very young. My world, as an only child of a single mother, collapsed. I was devastated.” [Zebra]

City Holding Public Hearing on Mobility Plan —  “The Alexandria Mobility Plan (AMP), a strategic update to the City’s 2008 Transportation Master Plan, will guide decision-making and outline priority strategies to ensure that transportation in the City continues to serve the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors as the region grows and new technology adds to the ways we get around. The City will hold a virtual town hall presentation, including Q&A, on Thursday, October 15 at 6 p.m.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Sunshine along with some cloudy intervals (during the day). High around 70F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Clear skies (at night). Low 47F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Property Manager — “Full Time Property Manager needed for a 160 unit apartment community. This position requires a take charge, reliable individual with strong management skills and excellent verbal and written communication. Qualification requires at least 2-5 years of property management experience managing the site staff and day to day operations” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Accuses Trump of Racism — “Just more straight-up racism here from the man who couldn’t disown white supremacy on a national stage 24 hours ago.” [Twitter]

Alexandria GOP Chair Says Residents Fear Being Republican — “He said that the local Republican chapter is in full support of Donald Trump. He believes that Republicans in Alexandria may be silent but significant… He shared that many local Republican supporters fear repercussions if they make their opinions public.” [Alexandria Living]

Apartment-Hotel Company Leases Old Town Building — “Sonder USA Inc. has applied with Alexandria to operate the apartment-hotel coming to 805 King St. The 9,700-square-foot, four-story building, owned by North Carolina’s Asana Partners, has a Warby Parker eyeglasses boutique on the ground floor. Renovations are underway to convert the offices around and above that store to residential units, all with small kitchens, ranging from 225 square feet to 527 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Alexandria Drivers Third Rudest in U.S. — “According to a study by Insurify, Alexandrians aren’t very nice people behind the wheel. In fact, we’re pretty darn rude.” [Alexandria Living]

Police Congratulate Retiring Parking Enforcement Officer — “Congratulations and best wishes to PEO (parking enforcement officer) Charity Roberts. Thank you for your 31.5 years of service–you will be missed!!!” [Twitter]

Living Legend James Henson Honored — “On Sunday, Sept. 27, the newest Living Legend of Alexandria, James Henson, received quite the surprise. Friends presented him with his official Living Legends portrait. They gathered outside the Departmental Progressive Club (DPC) to walk to his home.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. High 73F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.A steady rain in the evening. Showers continuing late. Low 53F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 70%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Marketing and Communications Manager — “You will be responsible for supporting APCO’s communications and marketing efforts associated with elevating the organization’s profile within emergency communications. The ideal candidate will create and execute strategies that promote the organization’s programs and services while developing and implementing communications plans and related promotional collateral.” [Indeed]

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Virginia’s biggest high school is named for Thomas Chambliss Williams, and on Thursday Alexandria got its first of three discussions on the avowed segregationist.

The three-part community read-in discussion is part of the public engagement process to rename T.C. Williams High School. The school is best known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.

“He represented racist beliefs of the Jim Crow era,” said Kennetra Wood, the Alexandria City Public Schools executive director of alternative programs and equity. “He was a stark segregationist  who used policy to block students’ access and opportunity.”

Douglas S. Reed, a professor of government at Georgetown University, presented documentation that Williams actively discouraged and prevented Black students from attending previously all-white schools.

Williams was 39 years old when he became superintendent in 1933. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, served in World War I and didn’t like to be called by his first name or have his photo taken, Reed said.

Williams required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

In one case, Williams responded to a petition from a seventh grade Black boy by saying the student would find it “a frustrating and discouraging experience to pass from a position of prestige in one place to a position of low rating in another… It does not appear from the record that this boy has either the ambition of the spirit to enable him to compete successfully with even the lowest of the seventh grade [at the white school].”

Williams was also investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for firing Blois Hundley, a cook at Lyles Crouch Elementary School. Hundley joined the lawsuit seeking to desegregate ACPS, and Williams was “outraged” when he found out about her participation, Reed said.

“He fired her,” Reed said. “He called her participation in the lawsuit a slap in the face. He took the legal fight as a personal insult.”

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the read-ins are important community conversations.

The only way we can figure out how to resolve and to change the narrative is by knowing it, and I love the fact that this discussion was very raw and real,” Hutchings said. “Naming our school after him says a lot about where the city was at that time, that we were embracing a segregationist mentality in that we were a very divisive city. We have to own our good, our bad and our ugly.”

The next read-in will be held at 7 p.m. on October 1, followed by the third read-in on October 8.

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The Alexandria City Council is expected to receive a city council resolution on race and social equity by the end of the year, and will receive recommendations on making the city’s diversity/inclusion statement more racially explicit.

“We’re thinking in working through how to draft a resolution as specific to race and social equity for Council’s adoption,” Jaqueline Tucker, the city’s racial and social equity officer, told Council on Tuesday night.

Tucker has spend the last seven months developing a racial equity training plan for all city staff. She said that city leadership and the department of community and human services employees have received racial equity training, and that she is developing a pilot program for all city staff.

“We’re beginning to map out and sketch how we will train all staff in the coming months,” she said. “I believe that (DCHS will) have all staff trained, at least in a foundational level hopefully by the end of next year, and they’re moving rather rapidly.”

In Alexandria, where you live can have an impact on your lifespan. According to a 2016 study, residents who lived in Seminary Hill neighborhood, for instance, received an average annual income of $187,000 and 95 percent of them have a college education. In the Beauregard area, the average income is $45,000 per year and only 72 percent have a college education. The life expectancy between residents living in the two areas is 84 years for Seminary Hill and 79 years in Beauregard.

Part of Tucker’s work is developing a Housing Equity Plan that acknowledges historical disparities within African American neighborhoods, potentially eliminates zoning and fair housing impediments, and account for the current effect that COVID-19 is having on rental and housing market.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the actions are necessary to reverse systemic racism in the city.

“We have gone from a government that was an active participant in expanding these inequalities, in addition to just maybe not making them worse but accepting their continuing presence,” Wilson said. “Then we went to try not to exacerbate them further, and now we’re in the next step which is reparative work.”

The city is adopting the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s Theory of Action in its work:

Normalize

  • Building capacity and knowledge of systemic racism and historically marginalized populations among all City employees
  • Developing shared understanding of key terminology and definitions related to race and social equity
  • Creating opportunities for formal and informal learning in and with community
  • Establishing a city-wide communications style guide and standards

Operationalize

  • Developing and using opportunity mapping to visualize and assess opportunity gaps within Alexandria and drive policy decisions and resources allocation to those most in need
  • Developing department-level indicators to measure progress toward reducing and eliminating disparities identified by ALL Alexandria core teams
  • Understanding and developing skill in using racial equity tools in department decision making processes
  • Creating departmental racial equity action plans

Organize

  • Developing inter-departmental focus on implementing race and social equity in City policy, practice, and budget decisions
  • Developing intra-departmental core teams to identify, assess and evaluate department policy to create strategic actions plans
  • Working with community partners to establish a framework to center the needs and experiences of those most impacted in decision making
  • Supporting community partners and organizations working within Alexandria to advance race and social equity
  • Building and maintaining strategic working relationships with jurisdictions across the region
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The Alexandria City School Board on Thursday (September 17) will consider moving forward with changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School, which is named after Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The placeholder name would be “The Parker-Gray Rosemont School.”

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond. The School Board received a petition from at least 100 signatures from city residents on August 6, less than a month after the board unanimously directed Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., to begin the name change process for T.C. Williams High School.

“Matthew Fontaine Maury was a confederate officer who fought in support of slavery,” states the petition, which was signed by Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “While his efforts in oceanography were noteworthy, his actions surrounding the Civil War and slavery were indefensible.”

The petition continues, “He attempted to negotiate a slave trade from the United States to Brazil in order to help his fellow southerners who would lose a great deal of monty if they lost their ability to sell their slaves. He invented an early version of the torpedo which was used by the confederates to sink Union ships. He tried to create a New Virginia Colony in Mexico after the Civil War where slave labor would continue with a new label of indentured servitude. He convinced nearly 4,000 confederate soldiers to defect before his plan was thwarted by unrest in Mexico.”

The T.C. name change will go before the board next spring, and the board will have to decide on a timeline for a public engagement process and a public hearing for the potential Maury name change.

“It looks feasible to run the two processes together (in the spring),” ACPS Executive Director of Communications Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “However, the board and the superintendent will have to make that decision.”

Photo via ACPS

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After eight straight days of walking on foot from Charlottesville to Washington D.C., a small group of faith leaders and their followers stopped just short of their pilgrimage in Alexandria to talk about their journey and the need for a racial reckoning in the country.

Audrey Davis, executive director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, welcomed the audience and told them of the city’s history with slavery and inequality.

“We really have so much African American history and so much social justice history,” Davis said. “We have two slave pens, and we were sort of ground zero for the domestic straight slave trade for importing slaves into the deep south.”

The group of about 20 walkers with Faith in Action, the Congregation Action Network and DC Unity & Justice Fellowship were escorted by police along U.S. Highway 29, which is still called Lee Highway in Fairfax County after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. As they marched, they repeated the names of Black victims who have been shot or killed at the hands of the police, including Brianna Taylor and George Floyd. They also had a new name to recite during their march —  Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times by police in Wisconsin on Sunday.

“The walk is about racial reckoning, resolve and love,” said Pastor Troy Jackson of the Ohio-based religious advocacy group Sojourners. “We’re here embodying our faith. I think that the political parties are all broken, and that what we are doing is appealing to a higher calling in people’s hearts.”

Rev. Walter Clark, assistant minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, said that society needs to atone for unfair practices against Black Americans.

“There are 400 years of hatred and sin to undo and we gather because we know that none of us can do it alone,” Clark said. “Let us go forth and begin the work of atonement together.”

The march will end tomorrow at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

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