Renaming of Rawls Byrd Elementary narrowed down to three choices

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(WJCC Schools)
(WJCC Schools)

The results are in, and the Williamsburg-James City County School Board is one step closer to renaming Rawls Byrd Elementary School.

After several months and a survey, the Rawls Byrd Elementary School Renaming Committee presented the School Board with three options for new names at a monthly School Board meeting Tuesday night.

The choices include “Sarah G.B. Jones Elementary School,” “Glasshouse Elementary School” and “Laurel Lane Elementary School.”

The school’s penguin mascot, however, gets to stay.

“I know that’s its tough to go through a process like this, but I think the way you did it and the way the students and community were involved – it’s just great,” School Board member Julie Hummel said to representatives from the renaming committee.

The school, which opened in 1965 and is located at 112 Laurel Lane in Williamsburg, is named after former WJCC Schools superintendent, Rawls Byrd. Byrd served as superintendent from 1924 to 1968, and is recalled as a vocal segregationist who kept WJCC Schools separated by race for 10 years after the Supreme Court declared racial segregation unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Lafayette Jones Jr., a former WJCC student, spoke at the meeting, explaining his experience with segregation during Byrd’s time as superintendent. Jones said Byrd denied his request to attend the all-white high school, James Blair, when he was a high school senior.

“Rawls Byrd called my father and told him that if I did not rescind my request, my father would not work in the area again,” Jones said.

On May 25, the School Board voted 6-0, with then-chair Jim Kelly abstaining from voting, to begin the process of renaming the school.

The School Board adopted its first ever policy for naming schools during its July 12, 2016 meeting. The policy permits future schools to be named only for individuals who have been deceased for more than 10 years.

In early November, the School Board released a survey offering eight choices for the new name, all of which were developed by current Rawls Byrd students. The survey had over 1,800 responses, 800 of which were write-in names, Renaming Committee member Felicia Highland said.

“We could have had a survey that had hundreds of choices and not moved forward with a name,” Director of PR & Engagement for WJCC Public Schools Betsy Overkamp-Smith said.

The renaming committee took the survey results into account, but the School Board is not required to pick any of the names presented to them.

During the meeting, members of the committee described the reasons behind the name choices, all of which were developed by Rawls Byrd students.

In 1893, Sarah G. B. Jones became the first African American woman to pass the Virginia Medical Examining Board’s examination. She opened a women’s clinic in the 1890s and treated women and children.

“She also treated black and white patients,” Rawls Byrd teacher Karen Mason said. “She was indeed inclusive. … She is a person who our students can look up to and be proud of.”

The second choice, Glasshouse Elementary School, was presented by Karen Peterson. The choice was made by Rawls Byrd third grade students in reference to Jamestown’s early glass blowing industry and Jamestown’s Glasshouse.

England’s early attempt at industry in America was in the early 1600’s, but resulted in failure after Polish workers protested their inability to vote.

The protest resulted in the Polish people being granted all the rights other British citizens had, including the right to vote.

“Despite the failure,” Peterson said. “… the Glasshouse is representative of hope and the dream of starting something new.”

The last name, Laurel Lane Elementary School, was chosen for the road the school is on. Laurel is used today in some ceremonies and recognitions, parent Jamie Bell said, to symbolize victory and triumph.

“How fitting, to name a school like ours such a simple and well-known name, which carries such strength,” he said.

The process of renaming the elementary school is still moving along on schedule with a timeline established by the School Board Aug. 2. The School Board will discuss the name change at their meeting Feb. 7, and will vote on the name Feb. 21, Overkamp-Smith said.

The next steps: Choose the name, vote on the name, then change the school’s signs and equipment.

By the 2017-2018 school year, Rawls Byrd uniforms should be emblazoned with a new name.

Lafayette auxiliary gym

In other business, the School Board also reviewed updated plans for the Lafayette auxiliary gym project.

Hargrove, Brockwell & Associates representative Jack Hasten said the gym design is close to its final form, and should be ready to go to bid by the end of February or early March.

Lafayette Gym plan
(Courtesy WJCC Schools)

The project is still on schedule to be completed in 2018, Hasten said.

“We are still on target,” he added.

The changes made after the School Board’s last meeting in December include an enhanced fire lane and access road around the gym, removal of a vestibule and making a storage room smaller. The design team is planning ways to shift four existing storage sheds to allow work on the access road, Hasten said.

The School Board approved $1,380,605 for the project at their Dec. 13 meeting, and Hasten said Tuesday the project is still estimated to be “below budget.”

“We are making sure there’s enough money in the project to address uncertain soil conditions where the building is going,” he said.

The School Board will see the final design at their Feb. 27 board meeting.

WYDaily archives were used in this article.