Education

Anchorage schools superintendent recommends renaming Fairview Elementary after district’s first Black teacher and principal

Anchorage’s Fairview Elementary School may be getting a new name: Dr. Etheldra Davis-Fairview Elementary School.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop in August recommended to the school board that Fairview Elementary be renamed after Davis, the first Black teacher and principal in the district. The first principal position that Davis held was at Fairview Elementary.

“It’s a good thing all around, and we’re really excited for it,” said current Fairview Elementary principal Diane Teekell-Opitz.

The school board is likely to vote on whether to rename the school at its Sept. 7 meeting.

“She was very prominent and active in the community — in that exact community — we lived right down the street,” said Andrea Davis-Antoine, Davis’ daughter.

Davis died in November at age 89 due to COVID-19 complications, Davis-Antoine said. Davis was aware the school might be renamed in her honor before her death.

“She kept saying, ‘I don’t know if they are going to (rename the school), but if they do, that’d be great,’ “ Davis-Antoine said. “She wasn’t really worried about it necessarily. But she always said it would be an honor if that ever happened.”

Davis was born in Arkansas in 1931 and moved to Los Angeles as a child, her daughter said. Davis’ parents and sister were teachers, too, according to Davis-Antoine.

Davis-Antoine said her mother first came to Alaska in 1957 to visit her brothers. Davis had already been working as a teacher in California, and she became the Anchorage School District’s first Black teacher in 1958. She taught at Government Hill Elementary School before teaching at Willow Crest Elementary School, Denali Elementary School and Airport Heights Elementary.

[Many Anchorage schools are named after people. Here’s who those people were.]

Davis eventually became the district’s first Black principal at Fairview Elementary in 1969.

Davis-Antoine attended Fairview Elementary while her mother was the principal, and she said Davis always had a love for young people. Davis helped found a number of mentoring organizations, including the United League of Girls and the NAACP Youth Council, Davis-Antoine said.

“My house was always the house that everybody came to because my mom wanted to make sure she knew what I was doing,” she said.

Davis moved on to other principal jobs at Ptarmigan Elementary School and the now-closed John F. Kennedy Elementary School at Fort Richardson before retiring in 1980.

Davis also helped start a neighborhood watch and created a coalition for teens to help stop shoplifting, her daughter said. She was very active in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, as well as the Fairview Community Council and PTA, Davis-Antoine said.

Superintendent Bishop appointed a committee for the renaming process — required by school board policy — made up of five community members and two school district staff.

Fairview Elementary principal Teekell-Opitz, who is part of the committee, said they received letters of support from former Anchorage schools superintendent Carol Comeau, Anchorage NAACP President Kevin McGee and the Fairview Community Council.

Davis-Antoine is also on the committee and said she doesn’t see it as a name change.

“I feel like it’s an enhancing the name, not changing it,” Davis-Antoine said. “To have her name added to the name of Fairview is historically significant and shows respect to our history.”

At a recent school board meeting, others also testified in support of adding Davis’ name to the school’s title.

“She loved the Fairview community and the students and school,” Natalie Searles-Evans said in written testimony. “A classic example of love of education, community — especially youth. By renaming Fairview, we will keep her story, her legacy alive.”

[How Anchorage’s Mountain View, Fairview and Government Hill neighborhoods were named]

Teekell-Opitz said she has received “really positive” feedback from families and staff.

“When you think of the diversity of the community and this school — and to have someone tangible like Dr. Davis, who was here and is not this nebulous, famous character we’ve read about at some point,” Teekell-Opitz said.

Last year, the Anchorage School Board also voted in favor of renaming East High School after Alaska state Sen. Bettye Davis, the first Black woman elected to the Alaska Senate and state House of Representatives.

That change was supported by the Alaska Black Caucus and others in the community but received some pushback from other school community members, including the school’s former principal. Ultimately, the school board approved the name unanimously in October.

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