The first of the focus groups for the naming of the new high school in Westmoreland County was held last week. Cooked up by the School Board, the idea was to get input from various facets of the area’s community, and this month, it was numerous pastors providing their input. Also on hand to keep the group running was School Board Vice Chairman Dr. Wallace, along with Kathy Lewis and Chairman Ralph Fallin. Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry was also on hand to give introductions and get the ball rolling.
The people at the focus group included Lewis Thompson of Morningstar Baptist Church, Darryl Fisher, who aside from serving as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, is a preacher at Jerusalem Baptist Church, Rebecca Minor of Tappahannock United Methodist Church, Steve Taylor from Nomini Baptist Church and several others.
“I’d like to thank you all for being here,” Dr. Perry stated to those gathered. “It’s pretty hard sometimes to get a diverse group to talk about controversial or moral subjects, even though we’re looking at the people who set the standards within the community.”
Dr. Wallace chimed in afterwards, going into further detail.
“We’re seeking community input and clearly,” he stated, “we want the input of clergy since you represent a large portion of the community, as well as the moral and spiritual base of the community. For many people, the naming of a new high school has implications, and we wanted to get from you folks what those implications are, and what those considerations should be.”
Those wishing to see the name stay “Washington & Lee High School” were in for a bit of disappointment this time around, as not one pastor suggested the name, instead going for the far more generic Westmoreland County High School. The main overriding reasoning behind this attempt at a generic geographic name was, in the words of Pastor Fisher, “coming up with a name that was inclusive of all the residents of the county and is offensive to the least number of people you can imagine.
“Sometimes, not everybody likes the name you come up with,” he continued, “but they’re not offended by it. It can get pretty complicated when you start using criteria like somebody’s past or donating a very large check.”
Pastor Taylor noted that it was a rather volatile time, especially given the controversy surrounding Confederate names, statues and the rampant vandalism against memorials across the country.
“This is a heavy topic, especially in today’s climate,” he stated. “In dialogue, it’s just as important to listen as it is to state your opinions.”
Pastor Thompson noted, “There are some that might say that it should stay the way it is; that it’s always been that way. Well, that’s when you start arguing about tradition, and some traditions eventually need to change. All tradition is not good tradition.”
“We’ll face some backlash for coming up with a new name, but I think we’re the individuals that can see down the road knowing it will work,” Pastor Fisher chimed in afterwards.
Towards the end of the focus meeting, Chairman Fallin gave the closing remarks, noting that, “This name is much broader than the educational system. It’s also very important for this community. I heard some words about how we have to look towards the future, and about how important unity is, to keep this community together. Those are some things that, as a school board, we will pay close attention to.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but I am very excited about the county, the new high school and the athletic complex. It’s been a challenging road at times to get where we are, but what a blessing it’s going to be to our community and the education system. I hope we get to the point of things in the school that we will remember this excitement that we have now and that we’ll realize that educating our students is the most important thing we can do. We have to keep this unity working together to provide those educational opportunities.”
At the School Board’s official meeting the next week, it was clear that Dr. Wallace was in high spirits from the meeting, stating, “It was an excellent, well-attended session, both virtually and in-person. There was a lot of consensus on the importance of having unity in the county as we move forward. It presents us with an opportunity to set Westmoreland apart as a progressive county.”
The next focus group for the School Board will be on October 13 at 5 p.m., involving current and former educators. The meeting after that is on November 10, for current and former students. At least one more meeting will be held after that in December, for others in the community that have an interest on this topic.