The history of naming schools in Muscogee County - WRBL

The history of naming schools in Muscogee County

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Muscogee County School Board Member Athavia Senior has officially nominated the new elementary school #7 to be named Dorothy Height Elementary. The recommendation came at Monday night's school board meeting. The board will vote on it in September.

Height is a national civil rights activist who is best known for improving the circumstances and opportunities for African-American women. She served as president of the National Council of Negro Women and in the 1990s she encouraged young people to join her in fighting against drugs, illiteracy and unemployment.

Board policy dictates the person representing the district where the school is located be responsible for proposing the name. Senior said it was suggestions from the community to look at a woman that led her to the decision.

"When I went down the list and called her name the room screamed," Senior said. "In district three all of our schools are named after someone that has made a contribution to Columbus. So now we're going to diversify district three."

But the nomination is drawing opposition from some board members who believe the name should have local ties.  "We are about public education in Columbus Georgia. That's what we do. That's what we're about and that's what I think our schools should speak to," said member Cathy Williams. She believes there should be a standard by which to name schools.

This isn't the first time a school in Muscogee County has been named after a person, In fact, a lot of schools like Spencer High School and Brewer Elementary are named after local, prominent people in Columbus' history.

It was in the early nineties though that the trend changed after the controversy surrounding naming Hannan Elementary Magnet Academy.  Some board members back then wanted to name it after Sarah Spano, a well-known education volunteer who started the Sarah Spano Clothing Bank. But others wanted to honor Lyda Hannan, a long-time African-American educator. It was right after that, that the first elected school board came along.

"We remembered it," recalled Former School Board Chair Mary Sue Polleys, She said it was something the board wanted to avoid going forward. So they started naming schools after their locations. Blackmon Road Middle School and Downtown Elementary were the firsts of about a dozen.

"It's less personal, it's less emotional and there are less [fewer] opportunities for factions and divisions, that's the one thing we thought the school board is often involved in so much where they can't help it, but this was one area that we believed we could help it and avoid those kinds of factional divisions," Polleys said.

No policy was ever passed saying schools could not be named after people and one exception was made under Polleys' 13-year tenure. It was for Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary.

Lonnie Jackson Academy received its name after she left the board and honors a local citizen who was well-known for hosting a summer tutoring program for kids. The new Aaron Cohn Middle School was named after the late juvenile judge with the same namesake and was recommended by current board member Mark Cantrell.

Senior said she will continue to fight for her name. "Stop picking on my school and stop picking on me privilege to name the school that I deemed honorable for district three.

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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