School Committee chair floats renaming Ripley Building for Ellen Garrison

By Sean Flannelly — Correspondent

The debate over whether to rename the newly built Concord Middle School after abolitionist Ellen Garrison prevails, despite Town Meeting voters urging the School Committee to move forward with the renaming

And as of the May 7 School Committee meeting, a third option is on the table: Chair Alexa Anderson proposed renaming the Ripley Administration Building — rather than the new middle school — after the historic Concord figure. 

“I am concerned personally in 2024 that Concord has a school building named after a religious figure,” Anderson said. “This building will provide Ellen Garrison with far more exposure than the middle school. It exposes her repeatedly to an enormous audience, all parents pre-K to 12, as well as community members.”

Ezra Ripley was Concord’s first minister. 

Anderson’s new proposal was immediately preceded by public comment over the school’s renaming, with residents arguing for and against the renaming, and others seeking a compromise agreement. 

Concord resident Connie Levine criticized the School Committee’s public outreach methods, and said the decision should be an easy one. 

“I feel like you’re being handed on a silver platter something to improve the diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion by naming the school Ellen Garrison,” Levine said. “The townspeople, the Board of Selectmen, the League of Women Voters, have all told you that, but you don’t listen to them.”

Concord resident Wilson Kerr said he hopes the two sides can come to a compromise to avoid further polarization. Resident Joe Laurin agreed, and said the board should consider naming other parts of the school after Garrison instead. 

“I am concerned that this will continue to leave our citizens divided,” Laurin said. 

On the other side of the argument, Concord resident Marianne Maurer said she strongly feels that the name should be Concord Middle School, as changing the name is “not something that’s necessary.”

“There are so many people in Concord that have volunteered their entire life,” Maurer said. “I truly do not feel that we could select just one or two or three to celebrate all those people.”

While he did not share his thoughts on the naming itself, resident Don Kupka took issue with the argument that choosing one name is unfair to other names. For instance, he referenced Concord’s three elementary schools, named for Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau and Simon Willard. 

“I think we have a lot of legacy here and I would reconsider the thought that naming takes something away,” Kupka said. “I think it adds something.”

Concord METCO Parent Teacher Group Chair Akia Obas, speaking on behalf of Janet Walker, said that Anderson inaccurately represented the parent-teacher group’s position on the renaming at Town Meeting. Whereas Ms. Anderson suggested that the METCO PTG had not decided on a position, Obas said METCO PTG had never given any feedback, nor did the School Committee ever ask for feedback. 

“Diversity inclusion and equity and belonging are paramount concerns of METCO PTG,” Obas said. “Concord is adverse to embracing diverse cultures and frankly, the history, like remarkable Ellen Garrison, is what made Concord.”

The School Committee limited public comment to 20 minutes, though more residents were available to speak. 

Domingos DaRosa, the School Committee’s METCO representative, suggested holding a dedicated public meeting to hear everyone’s perspective on the name change. As a METCO representative, Domingos does not have a vote on the committee, but he said he’s personally in favor of the Ellen Garrison name for the school. 

“This school might not mean something to everybody, but when you’re coming on an hour and forty-five minute bus ride to Concord, and there’s nothing that reflects your community, it’s a big thing to walk into a building and say ‘Hey, I know who that lady is,’” DaRosa said. 

Several School Committee members said they would consider Anderson’s new proposal to rename the Ripley building after Garrison. The Committee will meet again on May 21.