Redefining history: Lois Harrison-Jones School’s name change reflects values

Contributed photo by Richmond Public Schools

By Amie Knowles

April 24, 2024

If you’re driving through Richmond, you may notice a “new” school. While the building itself dates back to 1954 (and its presence in the community to 1913), the school’s name recently changed to honor a local trailblazer.

The Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School pays homage to Richmond’s first female superintendent. Dr. Lois Harrison-Jones Fears also became the first Black woman to serve in the Superintendent of Schools role in Virginia and Massachusetts.

1954 marked her first time as an educator—a significant year, considering that’s when the Brown v. Board of Education case integrated public schools. Prior to accepting the role of superintendent in 1985, Harrison-Jones Fears worked as a principal and division administrator at Richmond Public Schools (RPS).

“A couple of years ago, we decided here at Richmond Public Schools, that we were going to make sure the names of our schools reflected our values of inclusion, equity, justice and of creating a better future for our children and for the city,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a media release. “I truly cannot think of anyone who better embodies these values more than Dr. Lois Harrison-Jones.”

Redefining history: Lois Harrison-Jones School's name change reflects values

Contributed photo by Richmond Public Schools

The building was originally named after Confederate Col. John B. Cary. While he also dabbled in other business ventures, Cary was a teacher by trade both before and after the American Civil War. He served as the superintendent of the Richmond school division from 1886 to 1889.

At the time, the state capitol had the largest public school system in the state, serving more than 8,300 students. Numbers skyrocketed under Cary, increasing the number of students by 30% and the division’s annual budget by 60% in just two and a half years. Currently, RPS educates 22,000 students a year.

While the former colonel did promote increased funding for the education of Black children living in Richmond, his ties to the confederacy remained strong. He played a major role in turning a public high school—housed in the former White House of the Confederacy building—into a museum about the Confederacy, according to information found on the Library of Virginias website.

Harrison-Jones Fears attended the school’s renaming ceremony and gave these words of wisdom: “I believe that no school is any better than the four pillars that are established within the school, the first being the home. You send us the most precious thing you have in your home, and they are your children.”

Redefining history: Lois Harrison-Jones School's name change reflects values

Contributed photo by Richmond Public Schools

The school currently serves its community as an ECO Campus Green School. The site also received distinction as a US Department of Education Green Ribbon School in April 2022.

“Green schools teach students about sustainability and the environment, giving them the tools to solve the global challenges we face now and in the future,” according to the Richmond Public Schools website. “Green schools support sustainability literacy through curriculum and instructional practices that are interdisciplinary, place-based and rooted in real-world context.”

Redefining history: Lois Harrison-Jones School's name change reflects values

Contributed photo by Richmond Public Schools

The Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School is one of four RPS schools that will be renamed by the end of the year.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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