After a two-hour discussion on Wednesday night, the Anne Arundel County, Maryland, school board approved the renaming of a Pasadena middle school to Northeast Middle School.
The final vote was 7-1, approving the change to take effect starting July 1, 2021, according to a news release. The almost yearlong process was completed after Superintendent George Arlotto put forward the motion on behalf of families and teachers in the Northeast cluster.
The board voted to rename the school in March to create a more inclusive environment for students. County residents were able to send their suggestions for the new name, with principal Glenna Blessing stating 104 eligible names were submitted.
None received a majority vote in the first round, so a second was held with the top 10 most popular names. Northeast Middle School came in ahead in both rounds, amassing more than 400 votes in each.
The mascot and school colors may change in future meetings with the school community. Students will be a part of the voting process, Blessing said.
“The process of renaming of our school affords us the opportunity to focus on making a difference in our present work for all members of our school community,” Blessing said. “Now is the time to shift our focus from the past to the present and onto the future.”
The school was originally named after the county’s first public school superintendent, George Fox, who did not support equal pay for Black teachers. He served as superintendent from 1916 to 1946.
Prior to the final vote, student member Drake Smith proposed to amend the motion to instead rename the school after Sarah V. Jones, a county educator who also served as supervisor of colored schools from 1926 to 1964 and served under Fox prior to county schools starting the integration process. Her name was up for nomination, but did not advance to the second round due to the lack of votes.
While the community’s recommendation was for Northeast, Smith said it is important for the board to honor Jones before she is forgotten in the county’s history.
“Let’s do the right thing to honor a hero of the past and inspire our students of the future,” Smith said.
Board President Melissa Ellis questioned whether Jones’ amendment on the superintendent’s recommendation is legal, and called the board counsel to review it. After a momentary recess, the amendment was dropped after it was determined it was not proper procedure.
Following the decision to drop the motion, board member Michelle Corkadel voiced her disagreement with Smith. When attending meetings with parents about the name change, she said, the community believed the school’s name would become a part of “their identity.”
“It was what the community chose,” Corkadel said. “It wasn’t just an arbitrary decision about a location or the simplest way to go.”
Board member Corine Frank, who represents the Northeast cluster, said she was originally concerned participation would be low due to the pandemic. Seeing parents come out for meetings on the topic and hearing families be encouraged to discuss the prospective options with their children, as their elected representative, Frank said “we have spoken.”
After the vote, board member Dana Schallheim proposed a motion to have Arlotto bring together a committee to recommend ways to honor Jones, and acknowledge the history of segregation in the county.
The motion passed, along with a separate motion to study the feasibility of adding the history of public schools in Anne Arundel County to the curriculum.