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A nearly yearlong discussion on the namesake of Paul H. Cale Elementary School could be nearing an end.
Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Matt Hass on Thursday recommended to the School Board that the building named for a former superintendent be renamed.
Haas’ recommendation came after a 12-person committee tasked to investigate Cale’s legacy concluded that the name change was warranted.
“Changing the name of the school will set in motion a change process that will align with the mission for Albemarle County Public Schools,” Haas said. “… If you approve my recommendation at your meeting on Oct. 10, the advisory committee for Cale shall reconvene to work with the Cale community to develop recommendations for a new school name.”
The process of whether to rename the school was set in motion in October after Lorenzo Dickerson, web and social media specialist for county schools, showed the School Board a video he created that highlighted segregation in American schools and the challenges the first Black students who integrated the county’s public schools face.
Changing the name of the school will set in motion a change process that will align with the mission for Albemarle County Public Schools.Matt Haas , Albemarle County Public Schools
Dickerson’s presentation, which was not created specifically for the board, referenced a 1956 article in Commentary magazine that, through extensive paraphrasing, stated that Cale argued against integration in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Cale served as superintendent of county schools from 1947 to 1967.
Haas addressed the Cale family at the beginning of his remarks. He said he admired what family members had to say, but people don’t know the intentions of those who led the schools more than 60 years ago.
“Those leaders served during a period of time in our history that was unequivocally racist. While it was a time that should always be remembered, it is not a time to be celebrated,” Haas said.
In that era, people would not have seen a picture of a Black student while flipping the pages of an Albemarle High School yearbook, he said, until Page 72, where a Caucasian student appeared “in blackface in the midst of a school-sanctioned minstrel show in the school’s auditorium.” Those who integrated Albemarle High were greeted with a Confederate flag, he added.
“We often hear about forefathers who owned slaves, and while those times occurred more than a century ago, they are still painful,” Haas said. “But this, in Albemarle County, is not long ago.”
He said people who integrated area schools, whose grandchildren attend county schools, are alive.
“We represent them in public office,” Haas said.
The county is not only scrutinizing Cale Elementary. Haas has been tasked to review the namesake of all 14 county schools, as well as the division’s existing policy on naming school buildings.
The committee held four meetings while investigating Cale Elementary: one that introduced committee members to materials pertaining to the investigation, another meant for people who knew Cale, one dedicated for the Cale family to address the public and a fourth where its decision was unveiled.
This lengthy process propelled Haas to recommend a more seamless one.
“The process for examining the names of our schools can be significantly improved by simply combining the decision to change the name with selection of a new name and including the existing name in the pool of potential new names,” Haas said.
Unless changes are made in the process, Haas estimated it will take about a decade to get through all 14 schools. He asked the board to approve a more efficient, less costly process.
“The committee’s initial charge will be to make a recommendation concerning the school name, based upon the current values and policies of the School Board,” Haas said. “The committee will be allowed to consider a pool of names derived from a process of school and community input to include the existing name.”
The committee’s findings, according to a news release, argued Cale didn’t speak publicly against segregation or try to integrate schools faster. The committee also found the School Board at the time was against integration. The findings were based on multiple materials, including documents sent by the Cale family and acquaintances and interviews of students, teachers and administrators who lived in the same era.
We often hear about forefathers who owned slaves, and while those times occurred more than a century ago, they are still painful. But this, in Albemarle County, is not long ago.Matt Haas , Abemarle County Public Schools
The committee revealed that Cale aimed to improve education during his tenure, but the article and the continued “segregation of county schools long after the Supreme Court decision and after Charlottesville city’s integration of schools made the continued use of the name of Cale Elementary School controversial,” the news release states.
The committee said its proposed decision wasn’t about Cale, but the future students, teachers and members of the community.
‘Cale supporter rebuttal’
The Rev. Roy Thomas argued against many of the advisory’s findings, including a report mentioning that continued segregation of county schools long after Charlottesville City Schools integrated made the continued use of Cale’s name problematic.
“The truth is neither school system is fully integrated until 1967,” Thomas said during a public comment session, referencing the county’s website that stated June 1967 Burley ceased being all-Black high school for county and city students.
He also thought that the committee saying Cale didn’t push to make integration happen faster was conflicting.
“He couldn’t,” Thomas said. “[In] 1958 Virginia Gov. Lindsay Almond stripped superintendents of their ability to integrate schools by giving some authority for transferring students to the racist Pupil Placement Board that didn’t assign a Black student to a white school until 1963 under judicial pressure.”
The committee didn’t find evidence that corroborated Cale said or did anything to oppose or delay integration, Thomas said, adding that the committee failed to base its decision on Cale’s efforts to integrate schools.
“[Cale] formed an integrated Citizen Advisory Committee,” he said. “He instituted integrated teachers’ meetings long before the integration of schools. He hired the first African Americans to fill leadership positions in the central office.”
Among other accomplishments, Thomas said, a licensed practical nurse program at Burley High was developed under Cale’s leadership. The program allowed Black students to become credentialed nurses, who eventually became the University of Virginia Medical Center’s first Black nurses, Thomas said.
“To change the name of [Cale Elementary] would be a grave injustice perpetuating the growing culture of defamation and untruth in our country,” he said.
The next school board is set for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Albemarle County Office Building.