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Madison Metropolitan School District

MMSD Board of Education Unanimously Approves Renaming James Madison Memorial to Vel Phillips Memorial High School

On Monday, November 22, the Board of Education unanimously approved renaming James Madison Memorial High School to Vel Phillips Memorial High School. This was the sole name recommended to the Board from the Citizen’s Ad Hoc Renaming Committee, although the Board did discuss the proposal of shortening the name to Memorial High School. The new name will take effect beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.

“I hope that the students of Memorial, who maybe look at the roles that had not been available to someone like them in the past, and continue to not be available to someone like them, are inspired to change that,” said Ali Muldrow, Board Chair, during the meeting. “And see the name of their school as evidence that it only takes one person to shift the way we as a society works, and who gets to be at the table. I’m tremendously grateful for the work of the ad hoc committee, and tremendously grateful for Mya Berry, the student who brought this forward a year ago.” 

Mrs. Phillips (1924-2018) was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School, and the first African American to serve as a judge in the state of Wisconsin. She was elected as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State, from 1979 to 1983. Additionally, she will be the first African American woman in the United States to have a statue at a State Capitol, which the Wisconsin Capitol and Executive Residence Board passed unanimously earlier this month.

“Vel Phillips was a trailblazer,” Memorial High School Principal, Matt Hendrickson, said. “We are excited to honor her legacy at our school, and thank the Committee and Board for their collaboration throughout the process."

Over a year ago, the Superintendent and Board received a proposal to rename the school in honor of Vel Phillips from a Memorial alumni. The proposal was officially accepted by the Board on March 22, 2021, and the community had a 30-day window to submit names for consideration, along with comments. The ad hoc committee was appointed in April, and began meeting this summer to review public feedback and proposed names, and developed a timeline based on the school renaming process outlined in Board Policy 6700

After several meetings, the Committee narrowed the list of proposed names to four, including the namesakes of Darlene M. Hancock, Bruce Dahmen, and Vel Phillips, along with simply “Memorial High School.” The Committee held a public hearing for comment on the four proposals last month, and then decided to move forward with the recommendation of Vel Phillips Memorial High School.

Now that the Board has approved this recommendation, school and district staff will begin updating internal systems, designing and ordering school signage, as well as notifying partners and vendors.

More information about the renaming process can be found on the Memorial Renaming webpage.