Why not rename a whole bunch of schools?

It’s been a good few months for Alice Young — and deservedly so.

In March she received a “Liberty Medal” from the New York State Senate. Last night, the Rochester City School District officially renamed School 3 the Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence. It previously had been named for Nathaniel Rochester, the city founder who owned people in slavery and used the profits to buy the land where we live today.

I already said my piece about Dr. Young in a previous post. I’ll just add here that changing the name from Nathaniel Rochester to Alice Young is one of the easiest decisions the school board will ever make.

Before it voted, however, some students from the school made clear they were unhappy with the process. They apparently had done their own deliberating and preferred either Harriet Tubman or Mae Jemison as the new honoree (Alice Young is only the sixth woman with a Rochester school named for her, compared to 25 men). Other great local female choices could include Constance Mitchell or Mildred Johnson. I have heard calls for schools to be renamed for Austin Steward, Howard Coles, William Knox, Bill Johnson and Franklin Florence as well. What about a name connected with the Rochester area’s Seneca heritage, or Puerto Rican pioneers?

Happily, there are many buildings that could use a fresh name. Charles Carroll (School 46) owned people in slavery, as did James Monroe and John James Audobon (School 33). Louis Cerulli (School 34), as you’ll read in my book, was the face of the anti-integration movement in Rochester. Beyond these problematic men, are any students inspired by George Mather Forbes (School 4), John Williams (School 5), Virgil Grissom (School 7), John Walton Spencer (School 16), Adlai Stevenson (School 29), Andrew Townson (School 39) or Frank Fowler Dow (School 52)? Do they even know who those people are? Do you?

The San Francisco Board of Education recently received some well deserved criticism for an overzealous school renaming campaign. Certainly, it’s possible to go too far. Rochester, though, easily could find ways to honor local and national figures — engaging and inspiring students in the process — with minimal historical ruckus. Board members and Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small last night suggested they’d be open to the idea. I hope they follow through.

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