President Barack Obama’s name will replace the name of President Jefferson Davis on the sign outside of following a nearly unanimous vote at an Oct. 17 meeting of the Jackson Public Schools in Mississippi.
Black students comprise about 98 percent of the student population at the magnet school ranked as Mississippi’s top elementary school, according to the district’s website. For the past several years it has achieved an A grade from the state’s education department. The state superintendent also recognized the school’s students for achieving the highest reading proficiency in the state during the 2015-16 school year, according to news reports.
The change will take effect next academic year.
Janelle Jefferson, who spearheaded the school-renaming effort, said in a recent interview with The New York Times, “If we are going to teach our kids a lesson, it’s this: If there’s something you feel strongly about that you feel needs to change, continue to agitate for it.”
While Jefferson led the effort to change the name of the school, the idea came from Farah Jaentschke, a former student at the school who is now in eighth grade. Four years ago, Jaentschke chose a biography of Davis to fulfill a summer reading requirement, said her mother, Ercilla Hendrix.
“And she said: ‘Well, that doesn’t seem right,’ ” after she read the book her mother explained. Her daughter realized the book was about the same Davis that was on the sign outside of her school. Her mother said her daughter asked, “How can we get the name changed? I just don’t feel like that’s the right name for our school.’”
Her daughter left for middle school. Her mother petitioned the board for the name change. And the rest is history. In September, the board voted to give authority of renaming the school to local parent-teacher organizations and communities.
For two weeks, the PTA asked students to submit suggestions for new names, with research supporting their picks. Each classroom voted on the nominees and elected a representative to lobby for its selection at a school-wide assembly on Oct. 4.
“We mirrored the national, state and local election process as closely as we could,” Kathleen Grigsby, the school’s principal, said. “They got a civics lesson on what it means to be able to vote. At the end of the day that is what matters: One student can make a difference.”
Signs outside of at least 21 other schools bear Barack or Michelle Obama’s names.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, at least 138 public schools nationwide in 2015-16 were named after Confederate leaders or for counties that bear the name of those leaders, including Lee, Jackson and Davis. They are largely concentrated in the South.