Walnut Lane Middle School, Princeton Community Middle School, Princeton Public Middle School, Princeton Middle School, and Princeton Unified Middle School. These are the potential names for the middle school in Princeton, which was renamed last year from John Witherspoon Middle School to the Princeton Unified Middle School after more than 1,500 people signed a petition calling for the name change in the summer of 2020.
Administrators for the Princeton Public Schools recommended that the new permanent name for the middle school be “non-person specific.” Officials have also recommended that the middle school highlight historical figures and local Princetonians who had been considered for the honor by naming hallways or building wings after them. They suggested that the school create a permanent historical exhibit with assistance from local historian Shirley Satterfield and the Princeton Historical Society that highlights the contributions of Betsy Stockton and the history of the Witherspoon School. Another recommendation was to place a marker on the school grounds, noting the former name of the John Witherspoon School and the work done to reexamine the name.
Middle School Principal Jason Burr will present the recommendations at the school board’s 7:30 p.m. public meeting tonight, May 25, on Zoom. The board is expected to vote on a final name on June 15.
Middle school and high school students have spent this academic year doing research and making a case for certain local or national figures to be potential candidates for naming. The students recommended both individual names and non-person specific names, and the entire middle school voted on what they would like the new name of the middle school to be. Community forums were held that celebrated student work and highlighted the complicated legacy of John Witherspoon as well as the history of segregation in the Princeton schools and the wider community. After gathering student and community feedback on potential names, Burr made the recommendations to the school board about choosing a more general name and not the name of an individual.
Candidates for naming included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, educator Betsey Stockton,sixth-generation historian and civic leader Shirley Satterfield, Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, and Michelle Obama. Community members were able to vote online for the name of their choice. Residents even went door to door campaigning for their candidate to be selected for the naming honor.
School officials said that in the end, the largest share of students and community members expressed support for the belief that the name shouldn’t honor just one person, because the school’s values are embodied by the students, teachers, and administrators who learn and work there, rather than the achievements of any one person.