After a heated debate among Charlottesville City School board members, Venable and Clark Elementary Schools now have new names. 

Venable will now be Trailblazers Elementary School, and Clark will be named Summit Elementary School. 

Five out of the seven school board members voted yes for Summit, with members Dom Morse and LaShaundra Bryson Morsberger dissenting. Trailblazers won with five votes, member Jennifer McKeever voted against it. 

Superintendent Royal Gurley was absent from Thursday’s meeting. Katina Otey, chief academic officer, sat in for him. 

The names won’t be changed just yet, said Beth Cheuk, spokeswoman for Charlottesville schools. That will happen at some point in the 2023-2024 or the 2024-2025 school year. 

Thursday night’s vote did not come lightly. Jennifer McKeever argued passionately against all of the names, saying that the district’s process for reviewing them was inadequate. Some of her fellow board members, tired of the continuous changes and unplanned extensions, sat shocked with McKeever’s continued disapproval.

McKeever called the name Trailblazers “kind of dumb.”

“This process has been problematic and we’re not coming up with the best names for the community,” she said.

When the school district started the name reevaluation process in 2020, it formed a Naming of Facilities Committee. The plan was for that committee to simply hold a community forum then choose new names and present them to the school board.

The process first changed in October after the community forum. During that forum, community members were split on what names they preferred, and no one name seemed promising.

“It’s disrespectful to everyone involved in the process.”

—LaShaundra Bryson Morsberger, Charlottesville School Board member

The participants suggested the district ask Venable and Clark students what names they like best. 

The committee gave third and fourth graders at each school two names to choose from. Almost half of the 67 students who voted at Venable selected Trailblazers. For Clark, 33 voted for Friendship and 28 voted for Summit.

McKeever questioned the committee’s decision to place the power of changing a school name on third and fourth graders.

Bryson Morsberger was visibly frustrated by McKeever’s insistence that the process was flawed.

“You should just be on the committee because you didn’t like the way the students voted, it seems like the community voice doesn’t really matter unless they agree with what you think,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to everyone involved in the process.”

Bryson Morsberger then asked McKeever a question that she has yet to answer — why is the name Friendship so controversial?

At a December school board meeting, McKeever voiced her disapproval for the name without explaining why.

McKeever did not answer Bryson Morsberger’s question Thursday, either. Instead, she said she was being attacked for her dissenting opinion in a democratic process. It’s reasonable to have disagreements over things that are happening, she said. 

“Calling a name dumb on something we’re about to vote in is not reasonable,” Bryson Morsberger replied.   

With slight hesitance, Lisa Larson-Torres shared that she was taken aback by the amount of time it took the board to come to the final vote.

Many community members feel passionately about the names of these schools, she said. There was never going to be a consensus. 

“I feel like it’s gotten a little muddy,” she said.

With this vote now behind them, the board members turned their attention to how they will handle the renaming discussion for the district’s remaining five schools. 

The process the district used for Clark was different from Venable. Because the student vote was so close for Clark, the district sought further community input before voting. For Venable, it did not.

“It’s problematic, in my opinion, that the school that serves a majority white population [Venable] got to pick their name, and a school that serves a majority Black population [Clark] did not get the same rules,” Bryson Morsberger said. She and Morse voted against Summit.

Board member Sherry Kraft suggested the committee provide monthly updates on the process moving forward. McKeever agreed. 

McKeever abruptly left before the meeting ended. 

The district will commence the name reevaluation process for Burnley-Moran and Johnson Elementary School process next week.

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Tamica Jean-Charles

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.