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Former Ginter Park elementary renamed to honor school’s first Black teacher, principal

elected officials applaud as Jacqueline and Madeline McClenney unveil a new name: their mother's
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Jacqueline and Madeline McClenney participate in the official renaming of Frances W. McClenney Elementary School on April 23, 2024, in Richmond.

Frances W. McClenney’s daughter said she faced threats for working at the school.

Relatives, friends and neighbors gathered along Chamberlayne Avenue on Tuesday to honor Frances W. McClenney — who the former Ginter Park Elementary School has been renamed after.

The school, like Richmond’s botanical garden, was previously named for Confederate Maj. Lewis Ginter.

A new school marquee with McClenney’s name was also unveiled.

McClenney was the school’s first Black teacher, as well as its first Black principal. Her daughter, Jacqueline McClenney, said the positions came with death threats.

“There was a time where our father used to have to escort her to school because she was threatened,” Jacqueline McClenney said.

The elder McClenney was known as a dedicated teacher who would tutor students at her home on evenings and weekends. She also implemented parent report cards to assess parents’ engagement and to get them more involved in students’ learning.

“Our mother would stay up late at night, working on her curriculum, her lesson plans. And it was such a sacred task for her that as a little girl, I didn't want to interrupt her,” said her daughter Madeline McClenney.

Madeline added: “She took education very seriously, because she knew what it would mean for the next generation of those of us who were just now able to go to public schools in recent history.”

The outside view of Frances W. McClenney Elementary School
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Frances W. McClenney Elementary School is seen on April 23, 2024 in Richmond, Va.

Richmond Public Schools has renamed several schools that were initially named for members of the Confederacy — including Ginter Park. The effort started in 2018, when the former J.E.B. Stuart Elementary was renamed Barack Obama Elementary School.

“The school board in its wisdom and courage over the last few years has stood up for values that we hold dear — values like inclusion, and equity and excellence — and decided that it did not make sense to any longer have schools named after individuals who actually fought against those things,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said Tuesday.

Jacqueline McClenney said she wants today’s students to understand her mom’s legacy.

“She wanted the best for every child,” Jacqueline McClenney said. “That no matter their background, no matter their home environment, she wanted them to come to school and know that they were loved, and they were educated well and that they could do anything that they put their mind to.”

Some students also got to join in on the ceremony Tuesday and learn about Ms. McClenney, as she was known to the school community.

John Jones, who was McClenney’s student in 1975, addressed the group of elementary schoolers.

“Ms. McClenney taught me who I was,” Jones said, because she gave him confidence. “I want to teach you a little bit about who you are.”

Jones told the students that when you do your best, you feel good about yourself. And if you do your best over and over again, day after day, you build self-confidence.

“Once you build your self-confidence, you become unstoppable,” Jones said. “There's nobody that can tell you what you can't do. There's nobody that can tell you what you can achieve.”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.
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