Rawls Byrd ES to be renamed in 2017

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(WJCC Schools)
(WJCC Schools)

By this time next year, Rawls Byrd Elementary School will have a new name.

On Tuesday night, the Williamsburg James City County School Board adopted a proposed timeline for changing the name of the school, which carries the name of the WJCC Schools superintendent from 1928 to 1964.

Byrd was remembered by former students as a vocal segregationist who kept the schools separated by race for 10 years after the Supreme Court declared racial segregation unconstitutional.

“One of my big concerns is that we know more about people before we name schools after them,” said Sandy Young (Berkeley). “The reason we chose not to rename the school at this time…is the cost. This is a budgeted cost and something we need to take time to do.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for Acting Superintendent Olwen Herron, who took the role over after former Superintendent Steven Constantino resigned on July 13 to serve as the Virginia Department of Education’s chief academic officer and assistant superintendent for instruction. Before leaving his post, Constantino voiced concern that the process for changing the name should be a grassroots effort.

“It seems to me when thinking about this,” he said during a work session on Aug. 2. “The more we can empower the community to determine the why and how and where and who is the best way to go about this.”

The WJCC School Division administration has decided the renaming process will begin with forming a naming committee. The committee, which will include division-wide staff, Rawls Byrd staff, parents of current Rawls Byrd students and three at-large community members, will be tasked with bringing a minimum of three potential names to the School Board.

The committee will meet this fall and present its initial report and recommendations to the School Board by January 2017. The Board will then determine a process for choosing the name—potentially through a survey or public hearings—and vote on the name by March. From May to July, operations staff will change the name on school signage and other materials and the school will open under the new name in September 2017.

“The issue in terms of renaming Rawls Byrd is that we need to make sure it’s vetted through the public and we get appropriate public input on all the options and possibilities,” said Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown). “That process is just going to take some time.”