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Lanier Middle School changes its name to honor NASA legend

The new name will go into effect in July of 2021.
Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman
Naming Event for the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility

FAIRFAX, Va. — The City of Fairfax School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Lanier Middle School to Katherine Johnson Middle School at their meeting on Monday.

“The message to our middle school students is ‘Eagles can soar beyond these earthly skies at Katherine Johnson Middle School,” said City school board member Toby Sorensen, who read the resolution.

City school board member Jon Buttram seconded the motion.

“Her contributions continued to serve the nation and helped ensure that the ‘Eagle had landed…and landed safely’. So, I think it appropriate that the name Katherine Johnson for our middle school will inspire new generations of ‘Eagles’ for our community, and I look forward to watching them fly,” Buttram said.

The City of Fairfax School Board voted to change the Lanier name at their meeting on September 14, after a three-month public engagement period to collect feedback from the community, with over 85% saying they should change the name. 

The public submitted almost 300 names which was narrowed to six by an advisory team to the Superintendent. 

On October 5, Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Pajardo presented the six name submissions: Maya Angelou, Katherine Johnson, Legacy, Fairfax Woods, Independence, and City.

The name, Katherine Johnson Middle School will go into effect in July of 2021 before the start of the 21-22 school year.

Born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Dr. Katherine Goble Johnson was one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate school in mathematics. 

Dr. Johnson joined the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1952. 

In 1957 the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik refocused Dr. Johnson and the country as part of NACA’s Space Task Group which later became NASA. 

In 1962, Johnson “was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for” according to NASA. The team prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, controlling the trajectory of Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule mission from liftoff to splashdown. 

With the introduction of IBM’s calculating machines and the hiccups that accompanied it, Glenn famously asked engineers for Johnson to run the numbers before his take off. 

“If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,” said Glenn. The flight was a success and marked a turning point in the space race between the US and the Soviet Union.

Dr. Johnson retired after 33 years at NASA and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor in 2015 by President Barack Obama. She died in February of this year. “She was an American hero and pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” said NASA Administrator James Bridenstine.

“Katherine Johnson has been an inspiration to me for many years, and I know she will be an inspiration to our students,” said Dr. Phyllis Pajardo. “I look forward to working with the Board and the school community to dedicate the building to this extraordinary person in the spring,” said Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Pajardo.

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