Four Albemarle schools might keep their names, yet the fate of two other schools remains uncertain

A screenshot of a YouTube video player showing a blue panel with the words, "AHS Peer 1963-68 and black and white images of people in Black face.

The names of Albemarle County Public School’s Agnor-Hurt Elementary School and Walton Middle School could change if the school board votes to put the schools through a name review process.

At the July 13 School Board meeting, Albemarle School staff presented research into six county schools. The staff recommended the board keep the names of Baker-Butler and Stone-Robinson Elementary schools and Jackson P. Burley and Joseph T. Henley Middle schools. 

They requested more time to research the namesakes of Agnor-Hurt Elementary School and Walton Middle School. Once district staff members complete research on Walton and Agnor-Hurt, the board can then vote to undergo a name review based on the new information at a later date, according to Karen Waters, director of community education for the district. These schools are named after former members of the Albemarle County School Board, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and other community members.

The School Board will vote at its Aug. 10 meeting on whether to not to accept Waters’ recommendation to leave the names of four schools. The public can attend or watch the meeting through the Albemarle Schools livestream and sign up to comment on the school board website.

Agnor-Hurt Elementary School is named after Benjamin Franklin Hurt, a former principal at Albemarle High School who served from 1954 to 1984, as noted in research presented at the July 13 meeting. Guy Agnor Jr. was an Albemarle County executive from 1976 to 1990. The elementary school opened in 1992.

Waters presented initial research made by Albemarle County Public School staff. They “found no quotes or articles that seem problematic,” about Agnor Jr., she said. However, the researchers found multiple photos from Albemarle High School events during Hurt’s tenure “that can be seen as troublesome by current standards.”

The research included pictures of minstrel shows performed at the high school where white boys were costumed in Black face for comedic performances, along with several pictures of white students holding Confederate flags at different events. Hurt was a longtime member of the Crozet Lions Club; Lions Clubs used these kinds of shows for fundraising and entertainment around the country in those years as well.

Waters shared the images in Albemarle County High School’s yearbook of the minstrel shows. She said that Hurt was praised and honored when he died in 2018 — a report in the Daily Progress said he “was famous for his dedication to knowing every student’s name at AHS, which at times had an enrollment of more than 2,000” — and that the committee needs more research to make a recommendation about renaming to the board.

Walton Middle School is named after Leslie H. Walton, a School Board chair who died from a heart attack one year into his term in 1970. ACPS staff research found that he worked closely with his best friend Paul H. Cale, a former superintendent who used to hold the name of what is now Mountain View Elementary School.

The research quoted a Daily Progress from July 12, 1970 that said: “Those who knew them and observed them working together were continually struck by their singlemindedness of purpose.”

Waters said more research is needed before she could make a recommendation to the board about reviewing the name of the Walton Middle School.

Cale served as superintendent of ACPS in the years after Brown vs. Board of Education, which mandated that schools be racially integrated. He was reported as being against integration in at least one article in Commentary Magazine in 1956, and the Albemarle school district did not integrate until 14 years after the Supreme Court decision, according to a report by C-VILLE Weekly.

However, Waters recommended that four Albemarle schools keep their names. In each of those cases, the researchers found nothing “problematic” with the namesakes.

  • Stone-Robinson Elementary School is named after Mary L. Stone, a local gardener who shared garden grounds with school children, and Rev. Frank L. Robinson, a rector of Grace Church and a frequent visitor to Cismont School (which later became Stone-Robinson Elementary School).
  • Joseph T. Henley Middle School comes from a former Albemarle School Board member and his son of the same name who served on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for 16 years, according to the July 13 presentation.
  • Baker-Butler Elementary School is named after John Baker, the first Black person to be elected to the Albemarle School Board, and James Butler, the first Black person to serve on the BOS.
  • Jackson P. Burley Middle School is named after a long-time Albemarle Training School teacher whose family once owned a majority of the land the school is housed on. The city condemned and purchased the property and built the school there over the objections of Burley’s widow. It was first a high school for Black students in both Charlottesville City and Albemarle County from 1951 to 1967, and was named for Burley when it became a middle school in 1974

But some board members questioned naming schools after people, in general.

“Researchers said that they didn’t find anything problematic and that they were consistent with our values,” board member Judy Le said. She asked Waters for more information. “I wonder if it was because of the lack of anything negative, or was it the presence of something positive that aligned with our values.”

Board member Kate Acuff said, “Even if you name something after an exemplary individual, it shouldn’t necessarily be in perpetuity. Whatever the exemplary people meant to the population in 1950 is not as salient now. Maybe we should just be forward-looking and adopt a value or a place name that is unambiguously timely whenever it is applied.”

More about school renaming

The school system started the process of changing its names in 2018 as a part of the implementation of its Anti-Racism Policy. Fourteen schools were selected to undergo research and review. Ivy Elementary School, formerly named Meriwether Lewis, was the eighth and most recent school to get a new name when the board voted in January. 

The advisory committees that supervise the name change are primarily tasked with ensuring the school’s namesakes are in line with the school system’s values — which include “equity, excellence, family and community and wellness.”

In April, the School Board passed a new policy that allowed staff to do preliminary research on each namesake, and allowed Board members to vote on whether or not to go through the name change process. Once the review is greenlit, the committee conducts school-wide and community surveys on what the new name should be. 

Schools that are selected to undergo the name review process will not retain their original name or the name of another individual, as stated in a policy set last year.

For the schools that keep their namesakes, the School Board can still review their decisions again if any controversial information were to surface, said Waters. The 2018 policy dictates that each school’s name be reviewed every 30 years, she said.

“The idea is that school names are supposed to reflect the adopted values of the school system that are present at that time, which is found in the strategic plan,” Waters told Charlottesville Tomorrow. Strategic plans are typically reviewed every four to five years.  

Each school has its own advisory committees, composed of staff and community members.