The City of Fairfax School Board celebrated the renaming of its middle school to Katherine Johnson Middle School today with community leaders, guests and family members of Katherine Johnson at a renaming ceremony at the school.
Distinguished speakers included NASA Aerospace Engineer Dr. Aprille Ericsson, Alpha Kappa Alpha Lambda Omega chapter president Samantha Richards, Dr. Aurelia Ortiz from the Virginia Department of Education and Bo Machayo, regional director for Senator Mark Warner.
Ms. Valerie Johnson, niece of Katherine Johnson spoke on behalf of her family, many were in attendance to help the school celebrate. The Johnson family then took a tour of the school and stayed to meet with classes and answer questions.
Winners of a pyramid-wide essay contest and future Katherine Johnson Middle School students were also included in the ceremony. Kindergartner Natalie S. said, “I think it is very special to go to a school named for Katherine Johnson. It makes me feel like I can be a part of NASA even if I am still a kindergartner. Katherine Johnson was good at math and so am I. She was brave and worked hard to make her dreams come true.”
Dr. Phyllis Pajardo, Superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools, opened the ceremony with reminders to the community. “Names really do matter,” said Pajardo. “Names inspire. Names give hope. Names reassure our students that they are valued.”
Dr. Pajardo also discussed what lessons she will take from the new name of the school. “Katherine Johnson Middle School means that I have a deep, personal responsibility to continue her legacy by being a positive role model to our youth. I means that I must take risks, speak up and lend my talents to improve conditions not only in the City of Fairfax, but to our larger community.”
City of Fairfax School Board member Toby Sorensen discussed why the board chose the name Katherine Johnson in November of 2020. “By naming this school after her, we want to inspire today’s students, like those of you sitting in the audience, and we also want to inspire future generations of young learners. We do not want the name of our middle school to be one of forgotten origin.”
The City of Fairfax School Board voted in September of 2020 to change the name of Sidney Lanier Middle School after two months of community engagement. The board collected input from the community and over 300 name suggestions were submitted. Dr. Pajardo worked with the City of Fairfax Historical Resources department and the Superintendent Advisory Team to narrow the list. In October, Dr. Pajardo presented six names to the board, including Katherine Johnson. That following month, the board unanimously voted to rename the school to Katherine Johnson Middle School. The new name will begin with the 2021-2022 school year.