Lusher Charter School to be renamed The Willow School, governing board decides

Published: Apr. 23, 2022 at 3:29 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The governing board of Lusher Charter School, long one of the city’s top-rated public schools, voted Saturday (April 23) to rename the program The Willow School.

The decision ends more than two years of sometimes contentious debate among administrators, teachers, parents, alumni and students over whether to disassociate the school from its namesake -- Robert Mills Lusher -- or maintain the Uptown New Orleans school’s established identity and reputation for academic excellence.

Robert Mills Lusher was a Confederate official and segregationist, and the school dropped the “Robert Mills” from its name in the 1970s. A renewed push to end the school’s association with Lusher’s last name began in 2020, after the Orleans Parish School Board moved to rename dozens of school buildings named for Confederate figures and former slave owners. That process included both Lusher’s elementary school campus at 7315 Willow St. and its middle school/high school campus at 5624 Freret St.

The school’s governing board last November rejected a proposal that would have preserved the Lusher name by signifying the school was honoring Dr. Jeanne Marie Lusher, a physician who specialized in childhood cancer who died in Michigan in 2016. Opponents said the Lusher name had become toxic in the community, while supporters claimed changing the name would be costly, diminish the school’s academic reputation and hurt students applying to universities.

After months of input from community meetings, surveys, committees, study groups and an outside consulting company, the board last week that it would consider four names when the Advocates for Arts-Based Education Board met Saturday at 9 a.m. The finalists were revealed as: Mosaic, Branch, Legacy and Lionheart.

But when the board met Saturday, those four “finalists” also were rejected, in favor of The Willow School, a derivation of Willow Charter School, a name that had been proposed last November.

“While none of the four names brought forward by the (Renaming) Committee were ultimately chosen, the process led the board back to ‘Willow,’ with today’s motion to adopt ‘The Willow School’ as the program name,” AABE Board President George Wilson Jr. explained in an email to staff, parents and students. “Willow is significant in our history, as that campus forms the roots of our school’s program. There would be no middle or high school, were it not for the Willow campus.”

Wilson thanked Renaming Committee chair Rachel Wisdom and committee members Brenda Bourne and Alysia Loshbaugh “for their tireless efforts,” and said the school’s administration would now move forward with “an outside professional branding group” to advance the branding and marketing aspects of the name change.

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