After an hours-long, impassioned debate about Concord’s past, present and future, the School Committee voted Tuesday night to go with “Concord Middle School.”
The decision came after months of public suggestions, with 22 unique titles proposed for the Old Marlboro Road building now under construction and set to open next February.
Three members voted in favor of Concord Middle School, while two voting members and a third non-voting member supported naming it for civil rights activist and educator Ellen Garrison.
Members of the public opened the meeting by advocating for their names of choice — the final act in a monthlong public hearing period.
Ten of the 15 residents who spoke Tuesday advocated for Ellen Garrison Middle School.
Concord parent Edward Hurley-Wales said his daughter struggled to feel included at the middle school, and that naming the building for Garrison would give people of color “a sense of belonging.”
Concord-Carlisle High School student Grady Flinn noted that while great strides are being made towards inclusivity in the schools, “We really have a lot of work to do.
“A lot of us agree that the opportunity to name the school after Ellen Garrison… is really something that could make an impact on students’ learning,” he added.
Several residents voiced support for “Concord Middle School,” with some contending that the name would more effectively unify the campus, and that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts can continue under the building’s original title.
“I don’t think naming the middle school will solve racism or sexism,” Denise Jantzen said.
“My kids love Concord Middle School. I just think that the only way to not marginalize or separate anyone is to call them ‘Concord students,’ no matter what color they are and what gender they choose to be.”
Superintendent Laurie Hunter and the school system’s diversity, equity and inclusion director, Andrew Nyamekye shared their recommendations before committee members undertook a lengthy and, at times, emotionally-charged discussion about what course of action to take.
Two options, Ellen Garrison Middle School and Concord Middle School, quickly emerged as the front-runners.
“Of the two, ask yourself which one’s more impactful… which one is going to move the future community forward,” METCO representative to the committee Domingos DaRosa urged his colleagues before the vote.
But School Committee Chair Alexa Anderson argued that “elevating a single individual over any other just doesn’t seem right.”
Anderson said the committee received close to 300 emails from the community during the public hearing period: 160 in support of Concord Middle School and 94 in support of Ellen Garrison Middle School, with a smaller number in favor of alternatives such as Hudner Brown Middle School and Jerry Moss Middle School.
Concord-Carlisle High School’s student representatives to the school committee said that of 40 students surveyed, 69.4% supported the name “Concord Middle School.”
Historical interpreter and Robbins House Board Member Joe Palumbo, who is also co-chair of the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, said the committee’s final decision would help answer a question: “Who are we as a community, [and] who do we want to become?”
The DEI Commission recently put forward a warrant article for April’s town meeting to “ensure all residents of Concord would get a voice on the subject of honoring Ellen Garrison,” Palumbo noted.
The article asks the town to urge the Select Board and School Committee to name the new school after Garrison, citing town policy APP #43, which appears to entrust the select board with the authority to name new public buildings. The School Committee’s naming policy delegates this power to the committee itself, however.
How the town will approach the warrant article now that the School Committee has made its decision has yet to be determined.
“This is only the next step in the 400-year journey to honor a person of color with a building in the town of Concord,” Palumbo said.