Faculty survey shows strong support for Edna Jackson

Anna Arnsberger

Over 70 percent of Wilson faculty support renaming Wilson High School after the school’s first Black teacher, Edna B. Jackson, according to a new survey. 

The faculty survey was created by History teacher Michele Bollinger and sent out by Principal Kimberly Martin. It came as Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee finalized their decision for the new name. Due to the January 6 riot and the possibility of more disorder to come, Bowser and Ferebee intend to announce the name after inauguration.

Bollinger’s survey asked teachers and staff, “Should Woodrow Wilson High School be named after Edna B. Jackson, as opposed to the other suggestions?” As of January 8, 85 out of 119 respondents voted “yes,” 19 voted “no,” and 17 voted “unsure.”

Jackson, who helped desegregate Wilson High School where she taught history from 1955 to 1976, is among seven finalists for the new name. Other candidates include Principal Vincent Reed, playwright August Wilson, politician Hilda Mason, Mayor Marion Barry, education advocate William Syphax, and the neighborhood Northwest.

Bollinger decided to ask about Jackson specifically, after reflecting on student arguments, including a staff editorial by The Beacon that endorsed Jackson. She said she thought it was important to, “find a formal way to show sentiment among the staff.”

The overwhelming support of Jackson came as no surprise to Bollinger, who said, “I know our practice isn’t perfect, but I think that people’s hearts are in trying to build a more equitable school.” She cited the significance of choosing to honor a Black, female teacher in a city where so much is named after presidents and military leaders. 

After receiving 100 responses, Bollinger forwarded the survey results to a DCPS staff member from the Communications and Engagement Office. She is still finding ways to bring attention to it.

Bollinger recognizes that this survey may be too late to influence the final name decision—it was sent to faculty on Monday, January 4. Even so, “it says a lot that our faculty is for the spirit of the students,” Bollinger said. 

While DCPS had released an official survey open to all community members to vote on a new name, Bollinger didn’t want the decision to be entirely based on that vote. “The problem with that is we don’t know the extent to which people have had a self-conscious conversation about what names mean. You know, many are going to pick the easiest thing,” Bollinger said. She expressed disappointment that teachers and students didn’t have more of a say in the process to reach a final decision.

Bollinger added that “with remote learning, it’s been kind of difficult to involve our school community in this process the way it probably should have been.” She initially wanted to have a faculty meeting to discuss and vote on the name they support, but a survey was the next best thing with limited time.

Despite advocacy by students and teachers, Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Ferebee have the final say in which name is nominated for approval by the DC Council.