McNerney: Renaming of Loudoun’s Alternative School

By Neil McNerney, Parenting with Purpose

There is a hidden gem for high school students in Loudoun County, and it is one of the most misunderstood programs in the area. Presently named the Douglass School, it is in the process of enhancing a great program in a new location.

In the past year, the Monroe Technical Academy has moved from the Leesburg location to join with the Academies of Loudoun. Soon, design and construction will begin on the Childrens Center Road site with a planned opening of fall 2021. This new location will be the center for many programs, including the alternative school and the adult education center.

Since the name Douglass School is attached to the historic building where the program presently resides, the school board decided to seek a new name for the school. I was asked to serve on the naming committee.

I believe that creating a new name for this school is an opportunity to share a bit about the great work that happens at the alternative school. I have had the opportunity to work with the students and staff throughout the years and can attest to their great work.

The alternative school’s main mission is just that: An alternative school. Many high school students, for a variety of reasons, have found it very difficult to succeed in their neighborhood school. Douglass School gives students the compassionate, individualized attention that many of them need to succeed.

Here are some remarks from former students about the impact of Douglass school:

“This school saved my life in more ways I can even express. It’s rare find such a hotspot of teachers who truly care about their students and go way above the pay and job description. Would love to be able to give back one of these days!”

“The teachers really care about your success and happiness! Some of my best memories took place at Douglass, and even though I arrived there on not the greatest of terms, I left as a better person. All you need is one person to believe in you, and Douglass will always be that support net.”

My experiences have been the same as these students. I have seen it help students learn how to succeed when they have been dealing with failure after failure. I have seen students that went from hating school to actually looking forward to it.

When I was asked to serve on the naming committee, I jumped at the opportunity. More than 100 names were submitted for consideration. During our deliberations, one name became the consensus pick: The North Star School.

Frederick Douglass and Dr. Martin Delany 171 years ago started The North Staras the leading abolitionist newspaper of the day. The name of the newspaper paid homage to the fact that escaping slaves used the North Star in the night sky to guide them to freedom.” The naming committee endorsed this name for the school for reasons including the symbolism of the north compass as well as the programs to be offered to future students which will enable them to “find their way” as well as allowing students to “find a path for success.”

Our goal as a committee was to take with us something of Frederick Douglass’ history while also focusing on the main mission of the schools that will be housed at the new location. I believe The North Star School does exactly that.

This name also allows for the beginning of a “re-branding” of the alternative programs in Loudoun County. I am hopeful that this renaming will help county residents understand the amazing work that happens at the alternative school for kids who might be dealing with multiple issues and need an alternative environment to succeed.

The school board will consider the recommended name during their Feb.12, 2019 meeting. It is my hope that this naming process will continue to highlight the need for alternative education programs for our Loudoun students.


Neil McNerney

Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.

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