Former Albemarle supervisor tapped by superintendent
Dennis S. Rooker, a former Albemarle County supervisor, has been appointed to lead a committee reviewing the namesake of Cale Elementary School, county schools Superintendent Matt Haas recently announced. Scrutiny of former Superintendent Paul H. Cale began in October when a presentation on the educational experience of African-Americans in Albemarle referenced a 1956 magazine article that included heavily paraphrased statements from Cale arguing against integrating schools.
In response to the presentation, Kate Acuff, School Board chairwoman at the time, called for action on the school’s name, and the board directed Haas to begin an investigation of the 16 namesakes of 14 schools to determine if any are inconsistent with the school system’s values.
The division recently updated its school naming policy — which first was adopted in 1993 and was amended in 2005, 2009 and twice in 2015 — to set the process for renaming facilities. The old policy “was still somewhat loose, and there was nothing in there about renaming,” Haas said Friday.
Under the new policy, “the renaming of existing schools shall occur only under extraordinary circumstances and after thorough study.”
A review of existing school names is triggered by at least one of four methods: a petition from the parents and guardians of at least 75 percent of the school’s population; a petition from 75 percent of the school’s students; under the direction of the School Board; or if the superintendent decides that a review is necessary. The superintendent then creates the core of an advisory committee, which is made up of a leader, a representative of the division’s central staff and the school’s principal.
Haas said he chose Rooker to lead the committee because of his experience with county and schools operations and his policy background. Rooker first was elected to represent the Jack Jouett District in 2001 and was re-elected twice. Before his time on the Board of Supervisors, Rooker had a four-year stint on the county Planning Commission.
“He’s very much a known entity in the community, he’s very well respected, he’s an attorney, so I think he has respect for the rule of law,” Haas said.
The central office representative is John Gray, who is retired from the county’s human resources department. Haas said Gray was tapped because of his ability with project management.
“… I’ll be having a meeting with him and Dennis and Phil [Giaramita, the school system’s spokesman] as we start to lay things out,” Haas told the School Board at its meeting Thursday. “I’ve talked with the principal of this school [DeeDee Jones], and she certainly has a role on the committee but also helps select the other participants on the committee, as well, for the policy.”
Jones will lead the search to add at least three parents, at least three teachers and staff members, at least two community members who live in the attendance zone but do not have students at the school and, potentially, school alumni to the panel.
“The principal’s the lynchpin because they know all the community and who would be interested,” Haas said.
The county’s Office of Community Engagement also will be involved in the formulation of the committee to ensure that it reflects the county’s diversity. According to the policy, “Relatives [of the person for whom the school is named] shall be offered an opportunity to express opinions, if any, about the renaming of the school.” The committee also will hold at least one public meeting.
On Oct. 18, the School Board saw a presentation that included statements attributed to Cale in Commentary Magazine that said that the integration of white and black students was not possible in Albemarle. County schools were fully integrated in 1967, and Cale retired in 1969. In 1989, three years after Cale’s death, the School Board voted unanimously to name a planned school on Avon Street Extended for him.
This winter, Albemarle schools attempted to hire a historian to research Cale’s background during the years after the 1955 Brown vs. Board of Education decision but received no suitable responses.
“One of the issues was that most of those historians have some kind of tie to the federal government for grants to fund their work,” Haas said.
The plan to hire a historian has been abandoned, he said.
“I started to think I was getting in front of the process because it’s really the committee’s role once they get together to figure out how to get the information they need to get,” Haas said.
No research has been done yet, as the committee has not yet been fully formed. Once all of its members are empanelled, the committee will have 90 days to make a recommendation to the School Board. If the board votes to rename the school, the committee then will have 90 more days to hold at least two public meetings and submit name options to the board. Haas expects the committee to make a recommendation to the School Board at either its April business meeting or in May, at the latest.
“I’m going to try to get this group moving. I want to have a decision with enough time before the school year runs out so the students know that it’s gonna happen,” Haas said.
If the school is renamed, five years must pass before another name change is considered, according to the policy. Additionally, the policy states that only one school name can be studied at a time. Haas said that portion of the policy could be adjusted to expedite the review of the 13 other schools.