Billingsley name is a person, a road, now a school
Served as board clerk a century ago
Maryellen Popielarcheck said she was initially excited to see in the March 24 issue of the Maryland Independent that the new elementary school would be named Billingsley, but she would like to see it bearing the name of education leader William Billingsley, for whom the road in White Plains is named.
“He was very actively involved in education in Charles County,” said Popielarcheck, a former Charles County resident who now lives in Mechanicsville. “He’s extremely deserving of having a school named after him.”
During its Feb. 14 meeting, the school board requested three place names from the school naming committee after having been presented with the committee’s initial three recommendations of names based on individuals of significance to Charles County education.
The committee provided the additional place names at the board’s Feb. 27 worksession. One of those names was Billingsley. At the time, the committee reported that its research indicated the road was not named after a person of significance to Charles County.
“The Billingsley name was presented to us as a place name,” said Colleen Longhi, chairwoman of the committee. Longhi said the committee did look into it, but could not find any connection between Billingsley and the surrounding community.
“When I saw that I thought, ‘That’s not right. It’s named after Mr. Billingsley,’” Popielarcheck said. “I just want the record corrected.”
The board voted to name the new school Billingsley Elementary at its March 21 meeting.
According to a 2004 application to the Maryland Historical Trust, Billingsley Road got its name from William Briscoe (W.B.) Billingsley, who in 1903 purchased property on Middletown Road; subsequently, the road running south of his property became known as Billingsley Road.
In 1985, Popielarcheck served on a school naming committee for another elementary school. William Billingsley was one of the names nominated, although the school was ultimately named Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary.
According to “A Legacy: One- and Two-Room Schools in Charles County,” published in 1984 by the Charles County Retired Teachers Association, William Billingsley was a teacher in Charles County for 28 years, teaching at Bryantown, St. Peters, Pomfret and Bensville.
According to historical minutes of the Charles County Board of Education posted on the school system’s website, William Billingsley was appointed clerk of the school board Aug. 20, 1918, at a salary of $800 a year. The minutes record that William Billingsley served as board clerk continuously until 1932, the year of his death.
In a 1985 nomination letter by William Billingsley’s daughter, Rachel Latimer, she wrote, “For a long time, Mr. Billingsley enjoyed the reputation of being known as the ‘Teacher’s Friend.’ He never closed his office till the last check had been given to the teacher’s [sic] or the supply of books was issued for which they had made application.”
“It’s very interesting to learn that additional information,” said school board member Jennifer Abell, who made the motion for the new school to be named Billingsley Elementary. She said the information regarding the origin of the street’s name would not have changed her vote.
“It’s still named after the area, which is called Billingsley,” Abell said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Barbara Palko was one of those who had voted against naming the school after Billingsley Road.
“I felt very strongly that the school should have been given one of the three names originally recommended, who were all people,” Palko said. “It’s a great learning experience for the students to know who their school is named after.”
Board member Mark Crawford said he did not know if the information would have changed the vote.
“We chose the name based on the road, but we may have taken some pause had we known,” Crawford said. “Nowadays, people think of Billingsley as the cross-county connecting road; they don’t associate it with a person’s name.”
Popielarcheck said she would like to see the board go back and change the name to William Billingsley Elementary, a name she fought for 32 years ago.
“I’d love nothing more than to see William Billingsley’s name on a school,” Popielarcheck said. “He deserves it.”
Crawford said a future board can always decide to change the name of the school to William Billingsley or any other name.
“We’ll see what the future holds, but for now it’s just Billingsley,” Crawford said.