Name change nears as shortlist is released for public voting

Madison Dias

DCPS has released the shortlist of replacement names for Woodrow Wilson High School for public input. Community members will have until December 11 to provide input. 

There are seven finalists on the shortlist: August Wilson, Edna B. Jackson, Hilda Mason, Marion Barry, Northwest, Vincent E. Reed, and William Syphax. As of December 1, August Wilson is leading with 33 percent of votes, Vincent E. Reed is following behind with 18 percent, Northwest in third with 16 and Edna B. Jackson with 14. So far, 43 percent of these votes have come from residents of Ward 3. 

Following the name-nomination survey released in October, a committee of 12 Wilson community members, students, parents, administrators, and central office officials created the shortlist of seven names from the 2,000 plus responses in two virtual meetings that occurred on November 10 and 12. 

Principal Kimberly Martin said that, “We (the committee) had a really short timeline when we had to look at the information that we got from the survey and then get that information back to DCPS for [the community to vote].” According to Martin, her role was “to do the introductions, [setting] some norms for the meeting then try to organize how we would begin discussing the huge amount of suggestions that we had.” 

The committee made note of names that were very popular according to the nomination form. “If something had been nominated many many times, it seemed important to make sure that we gave some credibility to that. If a lot of people wanted it then it shouldn’t be ignored,” Martin said. 

Martin describes the conversation the committee had as dynamic, “We talked about a lot of things that we thought the broader community would care about.” The committee aimed at creating a “list that represented each segment of our community,” Martin said. 

Located on an online forum, current students, current and former parents and staff members, alumnus, community members, feeder school parents and “others,” have the ability to vote on the future name of Wilson. 

Students make up 26 percent of the 4,911 total votes, alumnus 27 percent, and community members making up 22.  

Voters have included publicly posted statements within the comment section,  expressing their reason for selecting their candidate. There are over 2,649 comments. One voter explains why they voted for August Wilson, “It would be cheaper and Wilson has been known as Wilson for so long. At the same time, it would honor a black writer who we all read in school and represents our community.” Though 150 people have agreed with him in the comments, others disagree, replying that “convenience [isn’t] is a good reason to choose a name. [Keeping ‘Wilson’] would only change the surface appearance, without paying mind to the deep-seated racism that is at the name’s heart.” 

In regards to Vincent E. Reed, many alumni explain in the comments that he was more than just a principal, but an important figure in the DCPS community. One commenter displays reasoning for voting for Reed, “I was a student at Wilson when Vincent Reed was principal and witnessed firsthand his devotion to excellence and deep commitment to personal relationships that encouraged us to do our best, both scholastically and personally. He holds a historic place in the school’s history and went on to further historic educational achievements.” 

Though many alumni show support for Reed, Edna Jackson is also a beloved teacher by many. “In addition to being the first Black teacher at Wilson, Edna B. Jackson had an important impact on at least a generation of students…. She also counseled individuals to keep trying to improve things at Wilson and in society, a message that was important to hear in the turbulent early 1970s,” a comment reads. 

In an effort to include current Wilson students, the list has been added into a “News and Announcements” section, at the very top of the Canvas Dashboard. This message includes a list of the names and a link to vote.

Though this forum includes the voices of Wilson, ultimately, the votes and comments are merely feedback that will be used for when Chancellor Ferebee and Mayor Bowser select the new name to propose to the DC Council before the end of 2020.


Vote here: