The principal of a high school in the Halifax region says a more inclusive name is needed for her school, currently named after Canada’s first prime minister.
Darlene Fitzgerald, principal of Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon, said the school’s name has been a concern for her since she started her job four years ago.
“I feel I need to do this for the kids, for the students at our school, and for our communities,” she said Thursday.
The first government-funded residential schools in Canada opened in the 1870s under Macdonald’s leadership. These institutions are widely remembered as places where Indigenous children suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. More than 150,000 Indigenous children are estimated to have been placed in residential schools before the last one closed in 1996.
Fitzgerald called the name change a “small but important step towards reconciliation.”
“I want to create a school that’s inclusive and safe, where every student that walks through the door is proud of their [school’s] name and their school,” she said.
Fitzgerald said on Thursday the school’s students were shown a video that describes Macdonald’s role as an oppressor and creator of residential schools.
Chantel Meister, a former student who graduated in 2017, supports the name change, calling it a “great idea.” She said a new name will better reflect the school’s values.
“I just hope that it’s something everyone can agree on,” she said.
Fitzgerald has sent out a letter asking students, parents, staff and community members for their input on the new name. A subcommittee of the school advisory council will review the suggestions and narrow down the list, but the regional executive director of the Halifax Regional Centre for Education has the final decision.
“We’ll go through and hopefully put it down to 10 or 15,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll bring it back to the SAC, and then the final decision will be the kids. We’ll give it back to the kids and they’ll vote for their top three.”
Anyone with an idea for the school’s new name is asked to submit their suggestion in a Google form by Nov. 26.
There are guidelines for naming schools. A school can be named after its geographical location or community, or named after a person. There is a vetting process for suggested names of individuals.