Middle School Renaming
Princeton Schools Administration Recommends Potential Names for the Middle School
In early May, the Princeton Public Schools administration recommended to the Board of Education that the new name for the Princeton Unified Middle School be non-person specific. The recommendation followed several months of educational activity that engaged students in researching naming prospects, as well as polls of students and members of the public.
Potential names recommended included Walnut Lane Middle School, Princeton Community Middle School, Princeton Public Middle School, Princeton Middle School, and Princeton Unified Middle School.
In addition, to ensure that the educational component of the renaming process continues for the benefit of future students, it has been recommended that the middle school: (i) highlight historical figures and local Princetonians who had been considered through the naming of hallways and/or building wings; (ii) create a permanent historical exhibit in the Learning Commons, with assistance from local historian Shirley Satterfield and the Princeton Historical Society, that highlights the contributions of Betsy Stockton and other early history of the Witherspoon School; and (iii) place a marker on school grounds noting the former name of the John Witherspoon School and the work done to reexamine this name.
Jason Burr, PUMS principal and the primary organizer of the educational and outreach efforts surrounding the school renaming project, presented these recommendations at the Board’s public meeting on Tuesday, May 25, for Board discussion and for public comment. The Board plans to vote on a new name for the middle school at its meeting on June 15, 2021.
In August, the Board voted to remove the name of the John Witherspoon Middle School and temporarily rename the school as Princeton Unified Middle School. At that time, the Board set a deadline of June 30, 2021 and requested that administrators and staff engage students and the local community in an educational journey to identify potential new names. Educators engaged middle school and high school students in the process. Ninth grade history students advocated for local and national figures as potential candidates for naming; eight grade civics students studied local heroes and role models and renaming movements across the country, creating short documentaries in support of candidates. The students recommended both individual names and non-person specific names, and the entire middle school voted on what they would like the new name of their middle school to be. In addition, multiple community forums were held, celebrating student work and considering the complicated legacy of John Witherspoon as well as the history of segregation in the Princeton schools and wider community. After gathering student and community feedback on potential names, Jason Burr, principal of the Princeton Unified Middle School, who led the renaming efforts, made the recommendations to the Board.
The naming possibilities identified by students were wide-ranging. Candidates included celebrated figures who have had a positive impact on the entire nation, such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis; distinguished Princetonians, such as educator Betsey Stockton, who had herself been enslaved, and sixth-generation historian and civic leader Shirley Satterfield; as well as individuals with both national and local renown, such as scientist Albert Einstein, entertainer and activist Paul Robeson, and former first lady and Princeton University alumna Michelle Obama.
In the end, the largest share of students and community members expressed support for the belief that the name shouldn't honor a person at all, because the school's values are embodied by the students, teachers, and administrators who learn and work there rather than the achievements of any one person.
Community Polling: The Community Polling Period Has Concluded
The ten videos below, created by 8th grade civics students, provided an introduction to the people and concepts that they felt embodied the core values of Princeton Public Schools and the its community. The students and their work were part of a student-driven, multi-grade-level project that began in 2020 when the Board of Education voted to remove the name of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was also a slaveholder, from the school and replace it with a name that reflects the community's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Read more about the history and the process of renaming the middle school here.
As part of the educational component of the PUMS renaming process, the district invited community engagement and sought input. This input was considered by the district administration in making final recommendations to the Board of Education, which is ultimately responsible for decisions around the naming of school buildings.
A New Name
Check Out These Eight Student Videos that Propose the Middle School Be Named After an Individual
Plus Two General Names -- Princeton Community, Walnut Lane -- That Are Not Specific People
Please Vote for Your Top Preference Below
Voting Ended on Thursday, April 1.
At the request of the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape nation, we have removed this option. They told us they very much appreciate our wish to honor them, but would prefer not to be included.