Houston ISD's board of trustees made official a decision that has been in the works for several months—renaming Woodrow Wilson Montessori for Ella J. Baker, a civil rights leader.
The decision was unanimous at the trustees' April 8 meeting.
"I absolutely support this name change and look forward to combating racism—structural racism too—in the future," trustee Elizabeth Santos said.
The process began when parents began asking administrators about a change after Princeton University opted to do so in the summer of 2020, when it removed its former president's name from its School of Public and International Affairs as well as one of its residential halls.
"Princeton's decision allowed us to take a look at this a little bit sooner, but based on what I saw of our community's involvement, this would have happened either way, eventually," Principal Shameika Sykes-Salvador said. "I am very proud of our community and was honored that they brought this to me."
Wilson served as U.S. president from 1913 to 1921. While known for his vision of a League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I, he also segregated federal agencies after years of integration and supported Jim Crow laws in Washington, D.C. While president of Princeton, he also opposed enrolling Black students.
The renaming process began in earnest in January with a committee of students, faculty and parents drawing up guiding values and soliciting name recommendations from the community. From dozens of names, the committee opted to recognize Baker, a behind-the-scenes civil rights leader. As an advocate for civil rights and economic justice over 50 years, she provided leadership to the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
"Once we did the research and saw what she did, she stayed at the top of our list," Skyes-Salvador said. "Who she was aligned with who we are as a Montessori. When we see a problem, we do the work—we don't wait around for someone else to solve it."
The April 8 board agenda item included a $100,000 allocation to implement the change, including replacing exterior signage. The school will also explore picking a new mascot—currently the Wildcats—and will work on ways to preserve the Wilson community legacy.
"We look at this as a learning experience for the students too," Skyes-Salvador said. "We want to honor what we've done as a school community."
The Montrose-area school has an enrollment of about 600 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade, and 60% of its students are nonwhite. The campus opened in 1925.
Houston ISD renames Montrose-area school to honor civil rights leader Ella J. Baker
The Montrose-area Woodrow Wilson Montessori, which opened in the 1920s, will now be a namesake of civil rights advocate Ella J. Baker. (Courtesy Houston ISD)