Jefferson Elementary School renamed to Delia Bolden Elementary School

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education, as per Resolution 4320, approved the renaming of Jefferson Elementary School to the Delia Bolden Elementary School during its meeting on Wednesday, June 29.

Delia Bolden was the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia High School, which she did in 1912. Upon her graduation, Bolden wrote a brilliant essay that was published in the 1912 yearbook and read at her commencement.

As part of the BOE resolution, the district will take the necessary steps, including but not limited to installing new signage and updating the district website to reflect the new name by Sept. 8. The district will also consider how to memorialize the building’s previous name of Jefferson Elementary School and the reasons for the name change on school grounds by June 30, 2023.

“The Board of Education is excited about the new name of Delia Bolden Elementary School,” BOE President Thair Joshua said. “Choosing Delia Bolden, who was the first African American woman to graduate from Columbia High School in 1912, is a fitting way to begin the new legacy at the school.”

The Board of Education previously adopted Resolution 4190 at its Aug. 16, 2021, meeting, directing the superintendent or a designee to work with the students of Jefferson Elementary School to seek input from the district’s student community to propose a new name for the school to the BOE by June 30. 

According to Resolution No. 4190, “naming a school for a person is to honor that person and to hold them up as a role model for students,” but Jefferson School currently “bears the name of an enslaver committed to upholding the institution of slavery” and “the Board of Education will no longer hold up an enslaver as a role model for students of the South Orange–Maplewood School District.” Despite Jefferson having been a slave owner, his name adorns many schools and public buildings across the nation as he is one of the United States’ Founding Fathers and he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The Jefferson Elementary School community recommended to the BOE five names for consideration, which the Board shared with the public at its June 20 meeting and discussed further during its June 27 meeting. In addition to Bolden, students presented the following names for the board’s consideration: 

  • Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • Mathematician and inventor Erna Schneider Hoover, a CHS alumna from the Class of 1944. 
  • Amalya Lyle Kearse, the first woman and second African American person to be appointed as a justice on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and a CHS alumna from the Class of 1955.
  • Track-and-field athlete and four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs, a CHS alumna from the Class of 1980.

New Legacy Elementary School was also provided as an option as part of the attribute approach, but the students ultimately chose to name the school after a notable person.

As part of the initial process, all teachers taught lesson plans on “name stories.” In this first stage, in order to help students understand the importance and power associated with names, they created name stories. Students listened to “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” by Juana Martinez-Neal, and journaled about their own names. Many students shared their name stories with their classmates. 

For the second part of the process, all classes selected positive attributes that they wanted to be considered in the renaming process. Students were provided with copies of the school’s mission statement, as well as copies of SOMSD’s mission statement. They were encouraged to make connections between the mission statements and the positive attributes, such as diversity, acceptance, perseverance, determination, respect and kindness.

Students in the fifth-grade subcommittee reviewed the submissions for the Attribute Approach. They then weighted the merits and creativity of each attribute and narrowed it down and voted on their favorite submissions. Based on these submissions, the student subcommittee considered the various positive traits and attributes and were encouraged to consider people who exemplify those traits. When researching potential candidates for the name change, students were encouraged to look closely at the person’s achievements, personal qualities and behavior. 

“I am extremely proud of the efforts of Principal (Kimberly) Hutchinson, her leadership team, teachers and students for their heartfelt work,” Superintendent of Schools Ronald Taylor said. “When the board began discussing the possibility of this renaming, I recommended engaging our students. Our educators and students far exceeded my high expectations. They turned this opportunity into the ultimate teachable moment, a thoughtful real-life civics experience that will impact our community for decades to come. They indeed have educated us all on not only the new namesake but four other very worthy candidates, women of distinction whose legacy we all know more about.” 

Photos Courtesy of SOMSD