ALEXANDRIA, VA – Last night, the Alexandria City School Board voted 9-0 in favor of changing the names of both T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, consigning to history two individuals whose legacies have no place in ACPS.
Thomas Chambliss (T.C.) Williams was a former ACPS superintendent who fought the desegregation of our schools, long after the Brown vs Board ruling which outlawed segregation in U.S. schools. Matthew Maury was an oceanographer who served in the Confederate Army, attempted to negotiate a slave trade with Brazil, and encouraged confederates to migrate to Mexico following the war.
Following a robust community engagement and consultation process, ACPS now has a mandate to move into phase two of The Identity Project as we consider new names for both schools.
Last week, Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. made the recommendation to the School Board that they vote to approve the changes.
Speaking after the vote on Monday evening, School Board Chair Cindy Anderson said, “This is a historic moment. Thanks to the methodical and strategic process we undertook with The Identity Project, our community is more aware than ever before of why combating inequities is so fundamental to ensuring change. Today’s vote is a symbolic step in the right direction, but we still have much work to do to see Equity for All as outlined in our ACPS 2025 Strategic Plan.”
Now the work begins to consider new names for the two schools. The second phase of The Identity Project, designed to ensure community engagement in the process to decide the new names, will be outlined to the School Board in early December. The superintendent will present name recommendations to the School Board for both schools in April 2021, following the community engagement process. The new names will come into effect at the start of the new school year on July 1, 2021.
Cost estimates to implement the name change at T.C. Williams total about $325,000, while cost estimates for Matthew Maury are just over $5,000.
More than 3,000 people responded to a survey asking their views on the name changes, with 75% in favor of changing the name of T.C. Williams High School and 72% in favor of changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School.
“It was important that students of color felt involved and engaged in this process from the start. We are so often a marginalized voice and through this process we were able to have open and frank discussions, not just about a name change, but about the modern-day segregation that still exists in our school division,” said School Board Student Representative Ashley Sanchez-Viafara.
School Board Student Representative Lorraine Johnson added, “We hope that this will be the start of further discussions around how we can change our systems from within.”
The name of our only public high school has been the subject of debate for many decades, but this summer’s civil unrest brought the matter to the forefront once more and in June triggered a petition of more than 100 signatures needed for the School Board to consider the request. Shortly after this, a petition was filed requesting that the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School also be changed.
Williams, who was superintendent from the 1930s until 1963, was a man who argued that Black and white students “learned differently” and should be kept segregated. One hundred years earlier, Maury held equally reprehensible views about race.
Fast forward to present day, and ACPS could not be further removed from this, proudly embracing students from more than 145 countries speaking 132 different languages. Our division’s 2025 Strategic Plan: Equity for All, puts racial equity at the heart of every decision that is made.
Following the School Board’s decision to consider the name change, ACPS launched The Identity Project to ensure that all in our community understood our history and had a platform to express their opinions.
A series of community conversations, student chats, history lessons and a survey helped spark an understanding of what was at stake. Part one of the Identity Project culminated in Monday’s vote. The second phase of The Identity Project — to decide the new names — will be outlined to the School Board in early December. It will focus on ensuring that students, the community and the voices of the ‘71 Titans, whose story is immortalized in the Disney movie “Remember the Titans,” are heard.