By 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court, through Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430 (1968), pushed localities for evidence of desegregation based on five aspects of a public education: faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. By 1968, Shenandoah County Public School system appears to have integrated facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities. The SCPS School Board minutes from 11 December 1972 have the following statement by the board following a discussion of the State Conference on Student Activities in Desegregated Schools: "Shenandoah County has a very good, healthy situation and... all students participate fully in all activities." Today, our focus is on faculty and staff.
Prior to the integration of Shenandoah County Public Schools in 1964, African American teachers taught African American students. School board minutes show that up to that time, African American drivers or even the teachers themselves drove African American students to school, except for those years the county utilized Greyhound's public bus services; in addition, personal conversations with community members and parent letters reveal that at different times this duty was performed by the student's parents and neighbors, or children walked to school. We've already seen the names of some of these drivers in school board minutes (Week 44: An Out-of-Area Education). These same records also list the names of African American educators, unless a position was indicated as vacant at the time of recordation. These teachers include:
- Alease Witherall (Woodstock 1938-1941)
- Violet Arter (Mt Jackson 1938-1940; Woodstock 1942-1945)
- Polly Mae Hall (Strasburg 1938)
- Frances Margaret Lyons (Strasburg 1940)
- Selma Nickens (Strasburg 1941-1943)
- John P Rier (Strasburg, 1945)
- G. R. McLain (Woodstock - Vann, 1993:4)
African American teachers taught multiple grades fashioned after the one-room school houses. Parents of an African American student reference this when requesting their child be moved to the corresponding primary school for white children in the community via a March 20, 1962 letter: "My main reason is that the teachers at the Sunset Hill Elementary School... each have several grades to teach. I do not think that a child under such circumstances can get as good an education as he could with a teacher who has only one grade to teach" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.). The parents' request was denied and the student was required to attend the African American school in Strasburg.
An interview in 1993 with Gwen Tolliver, one of the first African Americans to enter Shenandoah County Public Schools, shares her experience: "I went to a little one room school right in my backyard... It had one classroom with a kitchen, a coatroom, and a male bathroom and a female bathroom. We had a wonderful teacher. She was wonderful! Her name was Mrs. G. R. McLain. She and her sister both taught school. Her sister taught in Strasburg. They were both from Martinsburg, West Virginia. She was there from Monday through Friday and on Fridays she would go back to West Virginia for the weekend. She lived there with her mother.
"Mrs. McLain taught all of us from grades kindergarten to grade seven in one room. The youngest sat in the front of the room. As we got older we moved farther back in the classroom. There were not enough desks, so the older students sat at tables in the back" (Vann, D. "Integration of Shenandoah County Schools, 1993:4-5). Tolliver references the teacher's organization in their success as students, as well as Creekside's parents, who helped with and attended fundraisers, parties, and picnics that supported the school's educational experiences.
Just as teachers for the other SCPS schools, the African American teachers worked hard to provide the best education they could for their students, promoting community and citizenship even during the difficult time of the Civil Rights era. But what happened to the African American educators when SCPS integrated their schools, closed the African American primary schools, and signed the Civil Rights pledge (as noted in School Board Minutes from January 11, 1964)? A newspaper article entitled, "Total Integration Seen For Shenandoah Schools," published by the Associated Press in July 1964 gives the answer:"Shenandoah County will become the second locality in Virginia to totally integrate its public schools. The Negro schools will be closed.
"The action is a result of the assignment of all 66 Negro students in segregated schools to predominantly white schools by the State Pupil Placement Board....
"Shenandoah School Supt. W.W. Robinson of Woodstock said today the integration of the schools will not mean the integration of the faculties. He said two of the county's three Negro teachers have returned to their original homes outside Virginia. The third has accepted employment elsewhere.
"Robinson said the assignments by the placement board were not made at the request of the county school board. He said the applications 'were merely forwarded to the (placement) board for action.'" (The Progress Index, Thursday, July 9, 1964, p. 17).
The African American educators in Shenandoah County primary schools lost their teaching positions. Shenandoah County Public Schools took the stance that integration of students did not apply to integration of faculty in 1964. At least in southern campus schools, where the focal point of our 52 weeks together has been positioned, an African American person was not appointed as staff for more than another decade.
But, our community did get another school named after Confederate generals. School Board minutes show the appointment of three persons (one of whom had previously made the motion to name SJHS) to find a suitable site for an elementary school at Mt Jackson (Shenandoah County School Board Minutes, 9 June 1969). Their work is noted in the following school board minutes: 14 July 1969, 13 October 1969, 16 October 1969, 8 January 1973, and 12 February 1973. Then, what had been referred to as the southern campus primary school was suddenly in board minutes as "Stonewall Jackson Primary School" (Shenandoah County School Board Minutes, 1 March 1973, 6 August 1973, 8 October 1973, 10 April 1974, 9 September 1974, and even 14 April 1975). The first mention of Ashby-Lee Elementary School came on December 9, 1974 when "Mr. D. reported that construction at the Ashby-Lee Elementary School is proceeding on schedule and that the roof is now on" (Shenandoah County School Board Minutes, 9 December 1974). Just as Stonewall Jackson High School had been named before African American students were allowed to attend; Ashby-Lee Elementary School was named before African American teachers were hired to work there.
Ashby-Lee opened in 1975, drawing students from New Market, Mt Jackson, and surrounding communities. The school name derived from the magisterial districts that represented those parts of the county. They had been named in 1870, when Virginia was fully admitted into the Union after its secession at the start of the American Civil War (see Week 39: The Mask of Defiance): Ashby and Lee. And as a side note: with an acronym completely inappropriate for elementary school children: ALES, which in my Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to quickly fermented beers.
Personal conversation reveals that the first African American staff person at Ashby-Lee was hired only after the possibility of a lawsuit during the first ten years of the school's operation.
I entered the public school system in 1985, a decade after the elementary school had opened. I still remember my teachers and the elementary school staff. Some were remarkable. I trusted them to make the best decisions possible for my education. I didn't have school choice, nor a say in what I was taught. I'm grateful that my educational background led me to meet the three African Americans that either were instructional aides or volunteered in the public school system when I attended southern campus schools. Their presence, particularly in elementary school and high school, were extremely important and gave me a glimpse of diversity I otherwise would not have known. I often marvel at their bravery for being a supportive and positive presence to all of us students. I think we would all do well to marvel over their bravery.
And it leads me to ask a few questions that I hope you'll want to consider too:
- According to the Census COVID-19 Impact Report for Shenandoah County, Virginia, 9.3% of the Shenandoah County population is not white. Is this diversity percentage represented among the SCPS staff through the hiring of African American, Latinx, or similar minority group teachers and other employees?
- According to U.S. News, which uses information they claim is from government sources, "the student body at the schools served by Shenandoah County Public Schools is 75.8% White, 3.2% Black, 0.6% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, 16.1% Hispanic/Latino, 0.1% American Indian or Alaska Native." This may not be completely accurate, especially since the site also includes outdated information on the correct school names, which I hope you will join me in advocating to be updated; however, it supposes that almost one quarter of the student body is racially or ethnically diverse. The School Board is in a better position to share the statistics, but if it is accurate, is this percentage represented in SCPS faculty and staff? Among our school board members and other leaders?
- Two southern campus school names were retired in 2020 and changed in 2021. We are entering our fourth year after that decision and still community leaders are sharing openly that the names will be changed back. How does this help our community to move forward in positive and peaceful ways? How does it help our students and our community members to overcome a traumatic name change by suggesting we have another traumatic name change?
As a child, I didn't know to challenge the names of Confederate leaders on public school buildings. No one talked about it. My parents were not obsessed with the Civil War, and I'm forever grateful to them for that. But, I was observant and I notice, now, the harm public school identities based on Confederate leaders does to a community. The names of Confederate leaders resonate with bitterness and unkindness. They issue a sense of entitlement and privilege a single narrative. By really embracing the names Mountain View High School and Honey Run Elementary School, we are celebrating what we hold in common. In a public school system with 1/4 of its students identifying as non-white, it is no longer responsible for our community leaders to hold onto or return to the old school names. In fact, it's irresponsible. Without clear explanations in both Mountain View and Honey Run school foyers, as well as on the SCPS website, relaying the positive intention of the name change for its diverse student population, SCPS leaders are causing confusion and keeping the community from experiencing much needed closure and healing.
In 2021, Thomas B. Fordham Institute published an article entitled, "Children learn best when they feel safe and valued," which provides five elements for a sound model that educators can use to create school climates that nurture learning: "express care, challenge growth, express support, share power, and expand possibilities. In this understanding of climate, teachers don't just express care for their students, they envision and communicate ambitious possibilities for their futures and provide the challenges and supports needed to realize that potential."
In 21st century America, what care and possibility do Confederate leaders promote especially for African American students or for any minority student?
Shenandoah County Public Schools holds the following as part of its vision: "Producing individuals who have the skills, ability, and attitudes to succeed as productive citizens and develop a mindset of life-time learning" and also, as part of its mission via the same link, believes that "all members of the learning community are valued and respected."
In 21st century America, how do Confederate leaders encourage citizenship in a country they seceded from and fought against? How do the names of Confederate leaders foment value and respect toward African American students or minority students, whom they fought to uphold in a status of inferiority?
It is time for our leaders to make the necessary fine-tuned changes within Honey Run Elementary School and Mountain View High School that demonstrate a community identity surrounding these positive, inspiring school names so that we can finally say, "Shenandoah County has a very good, healthy situation," and really mean it.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
52 / Remembering & Moving On
51 / Integration & Teachers
50 / In Our Own Community
49 / S J H S
48 / Not One Positive Step
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day