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Cleveland school board approves name changes for three elementary schools

Justin Glanville
Ideastream Public Media
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education unanimously voted on Tuesday to change the names of three elementary schools.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to change the names of three of the district’s elementary schools: Patrick Henry Elementary School, Louis Agassiz Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy.

Last summer the board established a group led by CMSD Superintendent and CEO Eric Gordon to “review available policies and research to present a proposed set of criteria for determining when a school name is an appropriate representation of the district’s values and worthy of being the name of a school.”

The board considered renaming four schools — the three whose names were changed — and Albert Bushnell Hart Elementary. The names were deemed inappropriate because of where the men they were named after stood on race and slavery. Jefferson and Henry were slaveholders, while Hart and Agassiz believed Black people were inferior to white people.

Some schools may still be renamed, including Albert Bushnell Hart Elementary.

In its search for new names, the board requested help from surrounding communities, establishing certain criteria for potential namesakes. These included that the person must have been deceased for at least five years, must not have owned slaves and preferably had contributed to the CMSD.

At its meeting Tuesday evening, the board unanimously voted to change the names of Patrick Henry Elementary School, Louis Agassiz Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy to Stephanie Tubbs Jones Elementary School, Mary Church Terrell Elementary School and Natividad Pagan International Newcomers Academy, respectively.

Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland native, graduated from CMSD’s Collinwood High School and Case Western Reserve University. After pursuing a career in law, Tubbs Jones was elected in 1999 as the first African American woman from Ohio to serve in the House of Representatives.

Mary Church Terrell, born in Tennessee in 1863, attended high school in Ohio and later studied at Oberlin College. After obtaining both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree — a remarkable feat for a Black woman in the 1800s — Terrell began teaching, first at Ohio’s Wilberforce University and later in Washington D.C. There Terrell would become the school board’s first African American woman member.

Natividad Pagan holds the greatest connection to the CMSD of all three namesakes. As Gordon explained at the board meeting, “Ms. Pagan was a well-loved community member here in Cleveland, who was an active educator for CMSD. She was an administrator who ran our multilingual/multicultural program. She was the principal at Joseph M. Gallagher School, and she ultimately was the principal at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy.”

The board anticipates an $11,000 price tag to replace the physical signage at each school. That's on top of other costs such as T-shirts and what Gordon described as ways to "build community around the new names."

A rising senior at University School in Hunting Valley, Theo works as an intern for Ideastream Public Media. At US, he serves as the co-editor in chief of the school newspaper, co-head of the organization responsible for broadcasting school sports, and prefect-elect of Hawley house.