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Policy Committee Plan: Renaming of John Witherspoon Middle School

Report from July 23, 2020 Public Hearing

The policy committee and other board members heard from 28 people during the meeting, held from 8am-9:30am  via zoom. This included teachers, staff, the JWMS Principal, alumni, parents, students, community members and particular appreciation to historian/educator Shirley Satterfield who provided a clear and compelling lesson about our town and its history.

Takeaways From the First Hearing

1) The naming issue needs to be part of a much larger process of taking action to address systemic racism. Students/parents have experienced a great deal of pain over many years and we need to acknowledge it.

2) With respect to policy change, the BOE could consider changing the policy in the interest of naming the building for, as former mayor Yina Moore suggested, "a just human," and as PHS alum Geoffrey Allen and other students pointed out,  to see themselves reflected, to honor those who have had positive impact in Princeton and the world.

3) There is energy to engage students in this issue in a meaningful way— to make it a teachable moment in which they can do research, impact something real.  Dr. Joy Barnes Johnson shared the idea of "hallways as pathways” and this is potentially an opportunity to continue to educate our students on an ongoing basis, maybe changing out the hallway names on a regular basis to honor people who have impacted our community and the world in ways that reflect our community.

4)  The community is capable of having respectful, meaningful conversation. The Board is  deeply interested in community input on this topic. We need to have process as part of a larger approach to racial literacy and equity.

Next Steps

1) Connect this issue to comprehensive plan on racial literacy an equity.

2) While we focus on district plan for fall, hold an  EVENING hearing for public input on naming (to respond to the community’s comments about needing to have more input during an evening hour when people are more available).

3) Set process and timeline for change, including formation of an ad-hoc committee to guide the process.

4) Ask middle school Principal Jason Burr to provide plan for engagement of middle students on the issue .

5) Invite University and Community partners to join in educational events for community

Considering the name of our middle school is part of a larger effort around equity and racial literacy that will remain in focus as the reopening work continues, and supports the district mission.

Submitted by:

Jessica Deutsch
Member, Board of Education
Princeton Public Schools