Marcos Vilar, Executive Director of Alianza for Progress
Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County School Board must not botch the renaming of Stonewall Jackson Middle School. After a long four-year process to rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School, the School Advisory Committee (SAC) has decided on a name almost identical to its current one. The naming suggestion, Jackson Middle School, now heads to the School Board for a final decision.
The process, however, has not been without controversy. Apparently, some of the local school staff had an agenda to keep the name very close to what it currently is, and they prevailed. According to persons inside the school, the process of surveying the community was manipulated and lacked transparency.
Unfortunately, although many in the community have long denounced the current name of the school, there has not been enough grass-roots activism to create more momentum for the change. That is necessary now. In addition, the community must build consensus on an acceptable alternative very quickly.
The SAC’s recommendation is embarrassing. What are they thinking? Simply removing the first name and recommending “Jackson” as the stand-alone and official name of the school is a copout. It does not change the fact that the school is named after Stonewall Jackson.
Stonewall Jackson was a Confederate general who murdered fellow Americans, white and black, to preserve the racist institution of slavery. That is a historic fact. His legacy will forever be on the wrong side of history.
Removing his first name and keeping his last name does nothing to correct the fact that the school is named after a secessionist and racist who killed fellow Americans based on the idea of preserving slavery. Schools are places of learning; this one serves a population where three out of four of the children are of Latino descent. It is mind-boggling that the SAC would think it appropriate to keep the Jackson name.
The name of any school is an important message about what is acceptable and proper in our society. The SAC’s recommendation signals to all the children and families it serves that it is acceptable and appropriate to name a school after someone who spilled American blood in the name of racism. The SAC lost an opportunity to teach a most important lesson: self-respect. They also lost the historic opportunity of naming the school after someone who represents the student body, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente or Ana Diaz. There is precedent. For example, Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center was named after the first African American Superintendent of OCPS. Ana Diaz is a local education leader who rose from a paraprofessional position to become a teacher, then principal and regional superintendent.
It is not too late. The SAC can reconsider and withdraw their recommendation, but ultimately the decision will be in the hands of Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County School Board. A growing number of leaders in our community are demanding that the name Jackson Middle School be rejected by the School Board. It makes sense that the School Board select a name that more appropriately represents the Azalea Park community, particularly in the context that there is not a single school that bears the name of a Latino figure in Orange County. In our school district, Latinos make up 42 percent of the student population, and African Americans make up 25 percent. At Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Latinos make up 75 percent of the student body. Both the school and the school district populations are most represented by minority groups, yet the school is named after a defender of slavery.
I am sure that a truly fair and democratic process can be implemented to determine a name we can all be proud of.
And finally, the City of Orlando must also rename the street!
Marcos Vilar is Executive Director of Alianza for Progress. He has worked in Washington, D.C., in government, labor and non-profit settings and as a teacher in Chicago in the 1990s. He has worked on civic engagement campaigns in Florida since 2011, focusing on the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community.