Private donors have contributed more than $43,000 to help finance J.E.B. Stuart High School’s impending transition to Justice High School, a fundraising committee of parents and alumni announced in a press release on Jan. 18. The school is located at 3301 Peace Valley Lane in Falls Church.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has received $43,207 in private donations so far to support the school’s name change, including $22,900 in a single day from a fundraiser organized on Jan. 6 by the Justice High School Fundraiser Host Committee.
“This level of financial support to fund the name change demonstrates yet again the broad community support for Justice High School and the fight for equity and equality in public schools that the name change represents,” Debbie Ratliff, a committee member and parent of two current Stuart students, said.
Hosted by Alison and Shane Oleson, also parents of current students, at their home in the Lake Barcroft neighborhood, the fundraiser served as a kick-off event for the group’s fundraising campaign and attracted more than 100 attendees, including Stuart principal Penny Gros, Mason District School Board representative Sandy Evans, and State Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35th).
Film and TV producer Bruce Cohen, who graduated from Stuart High School in 1979, was also in attendance and wrote “a very large check,” according to one committee member, who asked not to be identified by name because of his work.
Organizers at the fundraiser set up laptops that attendees used to make donations through the online portal that FCPS created at www.fcps.edu/justice specifically to solicit private funds for the school name change.
An additional 25 people, including Cohen, made donations with checks.
The intake from that one fundraiser “exceeded expectations,” Ratliff says.
“The feeling among all of us who were there was one of excitement, anticipation, pride,” Stuart-area resident and fundraiser committee member Stephen Spitz said of the atmosphere at the event. “There may still be some people who are not happy with this. They have the right to their own views, but…what I saw happen in our community was totally consistent with the American story, which in the end is one of honoring justice.”
While additional fundraisers have not yet been scheduled, the committee anticipates having more events once the weather gets warmer, and a group of parents and Stuart alumni met on Jan. 21 to discuss the possibility of creating an advisory committee with local government officials and business leaders.
The advisory committee would help generate more support from businesses and companies in Northern Virginia, according to the committee member who asked to remain anonymous.
After a group of students started advocating for the removal of Confederate general James Ewell Brown Stuart’s name from their school in 2015, the Fairfax County School Board voted to change J.E.B. Stuart High School’s on July 27, 2017 and approved Justice High School as the facility’s new name on Oct. 26.
Prior to the school board’s selection of a new name, FCPS staff estimated that a full name change would cost approximately $800,620, compared to the projected $512,572 cost of simply removing the “J.E.B.” and adopting Stuart High School as the new name, as some board and community members suggested.
However, that initial cost has dropped almost in half, according to the school system’s most recent estimate.
In an implementation plan delivered to the school board during a Dec. 11 work session, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand reported that staff had revised its total estimated cost to be $428,412.
According to FCPS public information officer John Torre, the revised cost is a more precise estimate after staff conducted additional work to confirm school needs and current equipment inventories.
The new estimate includes $10,500 to paint a new logo on the school’s turf field, whereas the previous number had FCPS spending more than $100,000 to replace the entire field. The estimated cost of new band uniforms is also significantly lower than the original projection, dropping from $150,000 to $40,000.
“FCPS staff worked directly with the principal and other school administrators in formulating the revised estimates,” Torre said. “Additional savings may be realized through the actual bidding process.”
During the Dec. 11 work session, Brabrand asked the board to authorize the access of up to $267,741 from the FCPS’s fiscal year 2018 flexibility reserve and $160,671 from the FY 2019 flexibility reserve, including money from donations.
At that time, the school system had received $25,450 in donations, according to the one-page business case.
The business case specified that the amount of funds requested from flexibility reserves would be reduced by any future donations received.
Though the school board originally called for the name change to be completed by the 2019-2020 school year, Brabrand successfully urged the board to move the timeline up to the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.
J.E.B. Stuart High School will officially become Justice High School on July 1, though Spitz says a rededication ceremony will be held in August closer to the start of the new school year.
In addition to preparing for a new school name, current and prospective Stuart students voted to change the school’s mascot from the Stuart Raiders to the Justice Wolves, Gros announced on Jan. 17.
Stuart’s Raiders mascot originally featured J.E.B. Stuart riding a horseback and carrying a flag that bore the colors of the Confederacy until the image was turned into a silhouette in the 1980s, according to the Justice High School Fundraiser Host Committee.
The selection of a new mascot involved several rounds of voting overseen by school administrators, as the student-nominated options narrowed down to the Justice Wolves and the Justice Jayhawks as the top two choices.
More than 1,000 students, including rising ninth-graders in the Stuart pyramid, participated in the final round of voting.
“I am excited to see students are engaged in the transformation of their school,” Brabrand said in an FCPS news release announcing the vote. “J.E.B. Stuart High has been flourishing under the current school staff, students, and parents…This school and community will ensure that the first class of “Wolves” at Justice High School is a role model for future generations.”