Des Moines Public Schools gives Jackson Elementary a new — but familiar — name


By Samantha Hernandez, Des Moines Register

Des Moines Public Schools’ Jackson Elementary will continue to be called Jackson Elementary but will honor a new historical figure going forward.

The Des Moines School Board voted unanimously to change the name during its Tuesday meeting. Students launched the name change campaign about two years ago  while researching a class assignment about whether the school should change its name. During a school board meeting last month, Jackson students cited the seventh president of the United States’ owning enslaved people and mistreating Native Americans as just two of several reasons they were advocating for a name change.


The children argued Mary Jackson, NASA’s first Black female engineer, was a better fit in part because the school’s name should reflect its diverse student body.

Mary Jackson’s story was made famous in the 2016 book and film “Hidden Figures.”

Of the nearly 400 students, 25% are white, roughly 36% are Hispanic, 12% are Black, and about 20% are Asian, according to state data.

Parents, students and staff attending the meeting quietly cheered and clapped following the vote.

Jackson fourth-grade student Maximus Vannavong, who spoke at last month’s meeting, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am happy that it changed and got approved,” Maximus said.


Board Chair Dwana Bradley thanked the students for their hard work.


“It’s very important and valuable and people do listen and pay attention when you use your voices,” Bradley said.

Ahart praised the elementary staff for the work they are doing with students.

“The staff at Jackson intentionally created an opportunity for the students to discuss some issues relative to our history and to equity,” Ahart said. “And students came up with this idea.”

Changing the school’s name is part of a wider national call to rename sport teams, mascots, awards and street names. In Iowa, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted to rededicate Johnson County after late historian and college administrator Lulu Merle Johnson, a native of Gravity, Iowa, last year. The county’s original namesake was former Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson.

There will be some cost to change the name of school because Andrew Jackson Elementary appears on the front of the building.

Jackson Principal Cindy Wissler has been assured the cost of replacing the sign will not come out of the school’s budget.

Wissler is proud of her students’ hard work.

“Their voices were heard,” she said.

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at

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