The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously selected Hallie Wells Middle School as the name of the new Clarksburg/Damascus middle school which will open in August of this year. Making it just the second non-elementary school in the county to be named after a woman.
The Board made the selection at the regular Board meeting held Monday, March 21. Before making the selection, the Board heard testimony from a number of residents supporting both the selection of Hallie Wells as the namesake of the school and from those supporting the cause to name the school after Dr. Alan Cheung, the first Chinese-American to serve on the Board of Education in Montgomery County.
In February, the Board of Ed put forth four possible names for the new middle school which is slated to open in August of 2016. The four names, which the Board submitted for consideration were; Dr. Alan Cheung, and former members of the Board of Education, Mr. James H. Daugherty and Dr. Paul Vance. The fourth name was late principal at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville, Dr. Michael Doran.
As part of the process, the Board asked the Naming Committee, which is made up of members of the community that the school will serve, to come up with two additional names to be added to the list.
Dr. Barbara Woodard, the principal of the new school, told the Board of Education that the 15-person Naming Committee made up of civic association leaders, PTA members, and parents, met and discussed the four names recommended by the Board and reached out to community members. She said committee members used electronic surveys, visited local businesses, and spoke to neighbors to solicit information to be used to help determine the name recommended for the new facility.
“The community had a great deal of discussions and great respect for the names suggested by the Board of Education,” Woodard told the Board at Monday’s meeting. “However, they felt strongly that the name of the school should have a local connection to Clarksburg.”
“Ms. Wells is our committee’s preference due to her connection to Clarksburg and her philanthropy,” Woodard said to Board members. “As the committee discussed the importance of a name, they reflected that name is more than a label; it establishes one’s reputation. Selflessness, caring, honor, honoring green space, and caring for others is the reputation that the community wishes to establish for the school for generations to come.”
At Monday’s meeting, Board member Patricia O’Niell said that the Board has taken it as a mission to name schools after distinguished individuals, so students have a touchstone. “This is a community that cares very strongly as a community.”
O’Neil pointed out that in the past several years, the Board has given deference to the local naming committee and the name that local committee has put forward. She said this was not always the case and referenced the case of Spark Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown. “That was not the first choice of the local community, but the Board had made a commitment to name a school after an Asian-American. The first in Maryland.”
“When the naming committee met we wanted to find a name that would inspire and resonate with the entire community,” said Rich Liu, a Clarksburg resident, and member of the naming committee. “We thought of Hallie Wells, a farm woman from Clarksburg that gave her land to our children. A local woman, from the community that has historical significance.”
Hallie Wells and her husband Ovid Hazen Wells were originally from Tennessee and moved to the District of Columbia in 1918. They retired from the federal government and moved to Clarksburg in the 1950s. The eventually accumulated 290 acres of farmland on the northern end of Skylark Road. In 1981, Hallie sold all 290 acres of this property to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for just $10, according to the deed. This property is the park system in Clarksburg which bears the name Hallie’s husband.
“Hallie Wells means as much to Clarksburg as John Clark or Wilson Wims,” said Liu. “Her selfless gift to Montgomery County is an amazing example that we can share with our children. It is the story of generosity and selflessness, but most importantly, community. These are the lessons we want our children to develop, to become better citizens and to treat each other with kindness and respect.”
The other naming option, which earned a lot of support from some members of the Clarksburg community and the County as a whole, was naming the school after Dr. Alan Cheung. Clarksburg resident, Ting Mei Chau, was one of four people who spoke at the Board meeting in support of naming the school after Dr. Cheung. “Dr. Alan Cheung has the best combination of merit, community connection, and contribution,” she told the Board. “His tireless public service efforts, immigrant background resembling at least 33 percent of Clarksburg’s residents.” Chau started an online petition which garnered more than 1,800 signers from throughout the County, and beyond.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski pointed out that all of the names that the Board of Education put forward are very distinguished members of the community and County. “My support for the naming of the new school for Hallie Wells is in no way an indication of a lack of respect or acknowledgment for the work that any of the other names. I have met a lot of people in the Clarksburg community.” She went on to say, “I am very proud to have put forth the four names that we did, but equally as proud to accept Hallie Wells for the name of the new middle school.”
“Hallie Wells is our local community hero and is an important figure in the history of Clarksburg. Her gift continues to impact countless children today,” Lui told the Board.
Caption: The newly named Hallie Wells Middle School is located at 11701 Little Seneca Parkway in Clarksburg is still under construction and is slated to open in August for the 2016-2017 school year.
Photo by Germantown Pulse.