DCPS, mayor continue to delay release of new name

Anna Arnsberger

Over a month after the new name for Woodrow Wilson High School was chosen, there is still no plan for its announcement.

Having promised a decision by 2021, Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee selected a name in the first week of January. Following the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 and in anticipation of the presidential transition, Bowser delayed the announcement until after inauguration. 

Bowser waited to publicize the name until she finished compiling a document describing her rationale. According to Principal Kimberly Martin, “The decision memo will have an explanation for why the name was chosen, and [for] the other names, their value but why they ultimately weren’t chosen.” 

DCPS Central Office continued to set new dates for their announcement, first telling Martin it would be on February 8, then February 16. They also frequently changed their minds about how the name would be made public.

A DCPS statement explained, “The names we call our schools must reflect our values as a District and our commitment to diversity, and we anticipate an announcement on a new name for Wilson High School will be made shortly. We thank all who were involved in this process for their input and engagement to date.”

The constant delays have posed some challenges within the school. “We have to decide what name we give the diplomas, we have a seal that goes on the stole for honors society, we have a lot of seniors’ regalia,” Martin said, adding that if the vendors aren’t informed soon, items may have to be ordered with the school’s current name.

Still, Martin recognized that she is just a small player in a dynamic situation. “This is bigger than just the school… the mayor needs the time that she needs to make the decision,” Martin said.

Sophomore Dominique Barksdale recognizes that a lot is going on regarding COVID, but expresses concerns that the delays are preventing necessary progres.  “It feels like it’s a last priority to them… if they know the name, they should spread it so we can start making a change,” she said. 

Bowser and Ferebee chose a name from a shortlist of seven options that was compiled by a group of Wilson community members and DCPS officials. The list was released alongside a public-input survey that received over 6,000 votes.

Twenty nine percent of respondents favored playwright August Wilson. Former Wilson principal and superintendent Vincent E. Reed came in second followed closely by Wilson’s first Black teacher, Edna B. Jackson. The less-popular names on the list were the quadrant Northwest, Mayor Marion Barry, educator William Syphax, and statehood activist Hilda Mason.

History teacher Michele Bollinger did her own survey of Wilson faculty in which 71 percent of respondents supported changing the name of Wilson High School to Edna Jackson.

Regardless of public opinion, Bowser and Ferebee have the freedom to choose any name to send to the City Council for approval.

Once the Council greenlights the mayor and chancellor’s decision, the school will begin the process to replace its old name. DCPS has estimated a cost of around $1.2 million dollars to make the necessary physical alterations, including redoing the gym floor and turf field. 

The money for these changes will “be spread out over the course of several budget cycles, so it could be two, three, maybe even five years while we’re waiting to get things sanded off or replaced or pulled up,” Martin said. Despite the time it might take to fully transition, there will be a new official name by the end of the school year.