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A public school in South Philadelphia is set to be renamed after three years of advocacy from parents, teachers and city residents.
Andrew Jackson School at 12th and Federal streets has received the School District’s stamp of approval to begin the renaming process, according to an email sent to parents from principal Kelly Espinosa and obtained by Billy Penn. The process will begin with a town hall meeting on Feb. 25.
“We have made the decision to change our school name to one that will better reflect our school’s values and the diverse students and families we serve,” Espinosa wrote in the email to parents.
Public complaints surfaced in 2018 about the K-8 school, named for the seventh United States president. Jackson had no major connection to Philadelphia, owned slaves and ordered the Trail of Tears that killed thousands of Indigenous people.
Three years ago, an online petition garnered more than 800 signatures in support of renaming the Passyunk Square school. The idea? To keep the Jackson name, but have it rep Fanny Jackson Coppin, who was born into slavery in Washington DC and went on to become a teacher in Philadelphia.
There was a renewed interest in the school’s rebranding last year, after police killings of Black people reinvigorated a nationwide social justice movement. Philadelphians protested several monuments to violent historic figures — like the Frank Rizzo statue outside the Municipal Services Building and the Christopher Columbus statue at South Philly’s Marconi Plaza.
In the Philly area, people rallied behind renaming schools anew, calling out institutions named for Woodrow Wilson, a former president associated with the Ku Klux Klan, and Civil War General Henry Sheridan, who was notoriously violent toward Indigenous people.
And a new online petition made the rounds advocating for the Jackson switch.
It takes five steps to formally change a school name, per Espinosa’s email:
- Submission of the school name change request to the School District
- Review of the request by the School District
- Community engagement process/new name proposal
- Superintendent review of new name
- Board approval of new name
Jackson school community members are being invited to weigh in with their first thoughts on a future name via an emailed link to a Google form, provided in multiple languages. They can also volunteer to join a school naming committee.
A School District spokesperson and principal Espinosa did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Studies have shown representation matters in schools, but most of the data focuses on the importance of having people of color as faculty. There’s not a lot of research on the impact of a school’s name on its students.
Overall, diversity is notably absent in the names of Philadelphia’s public schools. A Billy Penn analysis from March 2020 revealed that just 27 of the city’s 345 public and charter schools are named after people of color.
Fewer are named for women, with 18 total and just six schools named for women of color.