Rawls Byrd name choices narrowed to three

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board will decide next month whether Rawls Byrd Elementary School will be named after the Glasshouse at Jamestown, Sarah G. B. Jones or Laurel Lane.

In May the board voted to change the name after activists highlighted the former superintendent's poor track record with integration in the 1960s.

Rawls Byrd was a WJCC Superintendent who actively opposed integration, activists like Lafayette Jones say. Jones helped push the board to change the name last spring.

After months of research and discussion, consulting with students and the community, the renaming committee formed by the board presented its three recommended names at the board's Jan. 17 meeting.

Sarah Garland Boyd Jones was the first African-American woman to pass the Virginia Medical Board's exam in 1893 and treated both black and white patients.

"She is a person our students can look up to and be proud of," committee member Karen Mason said. "Determination, academic excellence, resilience, leadership and collaboration are traits Dr. Sarah Garland Boyd Jones exhibited that made her an excellent candidate to name our school after."

Glasshouse is a structure at historic Jamestown where glass was created, one of the first attempted industries in the new world.

Laurel Lane is the street on which the school sits. Rawls Byrd parent Jamie Bell said his third grader likes the latter option, "it rolls off the tongue."

A list of names was developed by students at the school, then the committee sought community input through an online survey. Felicia Highland said there were more than 1,800 responses submitted.

There was a write-in option on the survey where 26 people entered "Rawls Byrd" as their suggested name. School spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said numerous suggestions were ineligible because the school board deemed that if a person were put forward, they must have been dead for at least 10 years.

Principal Karen Swann said the mascot, a penguin, will remain through the name change.

Board chairwoman Kyra Cook (Williamsburg) said the board would likely discuss the options at their Feb. 7 work session and vote on it at the Feb. 21 regular meeting.

Other board action:

On Jan. 17, the seven board members voted unanimously to adopt the updated Program of Studies, a document used by parents and students that details academic and career offerings within the school.

The board heard a brief update from Jack Hasten, a representative for the firm HBA hired to design the auxiliary gym planned for Lafayette High School. He said the design process is on schedule and bid documents, which the board will use to hire a company to build the gym, should be ready by late February or early March.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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