Cast Your Vote For New Middle School Name; Semifinalists Chosen
By Donald Gilpin
The Princeton Public Schools (PPS) middle school students have chosen ten semifinalists in the process of renaming their school, and the next step is in the hands of the Princeton community, which is invited to vote for its preferred candidate.
Formerly John Witherspoon Middle School, now temporarily Princeton Unified Middle School (PUMS), the school on Walnut Lane will be renamed by June — maybe it will be Albert Einstein Middle School or Elizabeth Stockton Middle School. Or John Lewis or Michelle Obama or Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation or Paul Robeson or Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Shirley Satterfield Middle School.
Or, with a growing contingent eager to give the various middle school hallways names rather than the whole school, the middle school might become Princeton Community School or Walnut Lane Middle School, with future naming opportunities for the hallways.
The Board of Education (BOE) will make the final decision by June, but promises that that decision will be informed by the voting of PUMS students and community members.
“Our community’s commitment to our core values of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all is at the foundation of the Princeton Unified Middle School’s process to determine its new name,” states the PPS website.
More than 600 PUMS students recently viewed video projects created by eighth grade civics students to promote possible new names. The community voting page is available at princetonk12.org and includes the students’ videos and further
background information on the process and the ten specific recommendations for names.
PUMS Principal Jason Burr applauded the students’ and teachers’ work and the collaborative process that included Princeton High School (PHS) students and staff as well as the whole community. “I am grateful to our students for their hard work,” he said. “To have middle and high school students actively engaged in the research and the dialogue is a powerful lesson in civics.”
He continued, “I am indebted to my staff for the way they have engaged our kids throughout this process. I am also grateful for the partnerships and the support of colleagues who have helped bring this project forward and put us in a position to be able to engage the community.”
The renaming project began in early 2020 when the BOE voted to remove from the school the name of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of Princeton University, who was also a slaveholder opposed to abolition.
In the fall of 2020, PHS history students conducted preliminary research projects, consulting multiple sources before creating presentations in support of their opinions, which they presented to the middle school students via webinar.
With the high school students’ findings as a foundation, eighth graders, working in teams developed their own arguments about what name their school should have, shared them with other middle school students before the whole student body voted on the choices and created the list of semifinalists.
Voting will end on Thursday, April 1, at which point a list of three finalists, based on community preferences and student recommendations, will be presented to the BOE for review, further deliberation, and a final decision by June.