By Kathy Chouteau
Richmond’s Wilson Elementary will be renamed after former First Lady Michelle Obama, after the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) voted unanimously in favor of the change on Wednesday.
It’s the first school in Northern California and the second in the state to be named in the former First Lady’s honor.
“Naming this school after Michelle Obama is a sign of the school’s rebirth,” Board President Stephanie Hernandez-Jarvis said.
Wilson Elementary serves about 430 students in Kindergarten through 6th grade and is temporarily using an El Cerrito campus while its permanent location at 42nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Richmond is being rebuilt into a state-of-the-art school. The new campus bearing the name Michelle Obama Elementary is expected to open its doors for the 2020-21 school year.
The name change was first proposed in a letter to the district by PTA president Maisha Cole, who said parents and students felt the new campus was a good opportunity for both a fresh start and a new name.
“We wanted to choose someone on a global level,” Cole said. “With a new school and new learning environment, we want our children to think beyond Richmond, to think beyond California, and remind them that they can make a difference locally and globally.”
Wilson Elementary is named after Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, whose pro-segregation acts while as president from 1913 to 1921 have been the subject of scrutiny in recent years on campuses named after him, including Princeton University, where campus buildings bear his name, and Wilson High in Washington D.C.
Parents and students at Wilson Elementary in Richmond advocated to rename their school after Michelle Obama “because they believe the values our former First Lady embodies and the educational, child-centered causes she champions, are representative of what we all aspire to nurture in our school communities,” Hernandez-Jarvis said.
“She is a role model for our children and we strive to serve our students with the same kind of love, advocacy, and courage that she served our country,” Hernandez-Jarvis added.
Two public meetings were held by an ad hoc committee, which gathered input from students, parents and community stakeholders, and there was a unanimous vote recommending the school’s name change on January 23.
The school’s principal, Claudia Velez, said Michelle Obama “really represents our diversity and values.”