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Wilson Middle School getting a new name

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson Middle School, 1800 Cottman Ave., is about to get a new name.

The school held a Zoom call on Tuesday afternoon to announce the new name: Castor Gardens Middle School.

Eighth-grade teacher Chelsea Maher, a member of the renaming committee, said Wilson’s name was recommended for changing due to the former president’s alleged connection to the KKK and re-segregation of the federal workforce. She also pointed to the diversity of the school.

Wilson served as president from 1913-21. Previously, he had been president of Princeton University and governor of New Jersey.

Wilson has been dead for almost 100 years, and few people seemed to be bothered by the school name. But after George Floyd’s death in May 2020, rioters around the country began tearing down statues and busts and painting over murals of certain white people in history.

Wilson has been on the radar ever since.

In the last two years, for instance, Camden and Washington, D.C. changed the names of their Wilson high schools, and Princeton took his name off its public policy school, all done due to Wilson’s views and policies on race.

Maher said the renaming process began in November 2020. Ultimately, four names were chosen as possible replacements.

Besides Castor Gardens, the other choices were for three prominent black women in history: Caroline LeCount, a Philadelphia principal and civil rights activist; Ida B. Wells, a civil rights activist who helped found the NAACP; and Nellie Rathbone Bright, a Philadelphia principal and co-editor of a literary magazine considered part of the Harlem Renaissance who died in 1977.

Voting went from April 21 to May 12. In all, 1,131 people voted, including about 800 students and 100 Wilson employees.

The final count was 602 for Castor Gardens, 251 for Wells, 210 for LeCount and 67 for Rathbone.

Neighborhood activist Nancy Ostroff, a Wilson graduate who was on the Zoom call, complained that the Wilson staff kept the process “in house,” arguing that elected officials, civic associations and the media were not told of the renaming process.

The Wilson staff said it followed School District of Philadelphia procedures, and that anyone interested could have found the information on the school’s website or social media pages. Fliers were distributed to businesses, community centers and around the neighborhood.

“We really focused on the school community,” Maher said.

“This was not kept secret from anyone,” said Dina Caplan, assistant principal for eighth grade.

The name change is not yet official, though outgoing Superintendent William Hite is expected to give his approval on Friday and the school board will likely give its OK on June 23. Anyone who believes the school excluded the community in the renaming process is welcome to attend next month’s school board meeting, at 4 p.m. ••

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