The Denton ISD school board voted unanimously on Tuesday to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School for a woman who taught in the district for 45 years.
So who is Alice Alexander?
On paper, she was a lifelong Denton resident and the daughter of Fred Moore, a civic leader and the city's first African-American principal. She was a teacher for nearly half her life and a staple in her Southeast Denton neighborhood. She passed away in 2007 at age 100.
But her legacy can't be confined to paper. People who knew her, and even those who didn't, recognize the importance of affixing her name to a place where educators are carrying on her life's work.
"The [school board] couldn't have picked a better person in the entire city," said Sarah Parker, who taught with Alexander in Denton. "Alice Alexander was somebody. She did whatever she could to help this city."
By the time Parker started teaching at Fred Moore School, the city's African-American campus at the time, Alexander had been there for 30 years. She started her career in 1928 after the Fred Moore staff lost a teacher over the Christmas holidays.
"[The superintendent] said, 'Fred, get your daughter,'" Alexander recalled in a 1986 oral history interview with the University of North Texas. "I'd only had two years of college. Daddy said, 'No, I refuse because I want Alice to go on and get her degree.' He [the superintendent] said, 'Let her go on and start.' I was just 17."
The district agreed to let Alexander finish her degree in summer sessions. By the time she finished, she had bachelor's and master's degrees under her belt.
When Parker came to Denton ISD in 1958, her classroom was across the hall from Alexander's. The veteran teacher taught the first-grade class while Parker started out with the second-graders.
"She made it a lot easier," Parker said of Alexander's guidance. "We really did just about everything together. She did everything with 100 percent effort."
Parker said Fred Moore students would often come back years later as adults and ask, "Where is Mrs. Alexander?" One of those students was Arthur Paige III, who was in Alexander's first-grade class in the 1960s.
"She was so intelligent," Paige said. "If you were slow in a subject, she would take time off and go over it with you. She treated every student the same, no matter their background."
Paige also remembers Alexander helping students in other ways. Sometimes, kids wouldn't have money for lunch, he said. Alexander would hear about it and take matters into her own hands.
"She would explain the situation to the principal, then take us to the cafeteria and we would eat," he said. "She was really a mother figure to all of us."
That matronly atmosphere extended outside of the classroom. Visitors to Alexander's Southeast Denton home would be greeted with a warm smile and a piece of whatever baked good she had on hand.
"I went over to her house one day to get some photos from her and she gave me a slice of cake," said Kim Cupit, the curator of collections at the Denton County Office of History and Culture. "She really was the sweetest lady."
Even after her death, Alexander's sense of goodwill lingered. Local property investor Alfredo Sanchez purchased Alexander's house about three years ago and had plans to renovate and sell it.
"We started working on it and I was surprised because this was the first house I fixed where people would stop by and talk about the person who owned it," Sanchez said. "They would talk about how great of a person she was. A lot of them would want to go inside and reminisce."
Once he finished the project, Sanchez told his wife, Prudence, that there was something about that house. She agreed. The couple sold their house in North Denton and moved into Alexander's house.
"We've never regretted the move," Sanchez said. "There's this welcoming feeling that I've never felt in any other house."
Denton ISD has a history of naming its schools after local educators and leaders. Out of its 47 facilities, roughly half are named for people from Denton. Alexander will be the third Africa-American woman to have a school in Denton ISD named after her, following Eva Swan Hodge and Catherine Bell.
"As a board, we've always wanted to put the name on a building of someone who has directly impacted the people in our community, and Mrs. Alexander certainly fits that description," Denton ISD board President Mia Price said in a press release. "The renaming of a building is often a difficult decision to make, and we believe with the naming of this elementary, this was the perfect opportunity to honor Mrs. Alexander and keep her name close to the southeast Denton community that she championed throughout her career and life."
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
FEATURED PHOTO: Alice Alexander (far right holding white sign) teaches her first-grade class at Fred Moore School. The Denton ISD school board recently decided to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School after Alexander for the upcoming school year. Courtesy/Denton County Office of History and Culture