Name new school after community, residents demand

September 19, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Elkridge residents are demanding that the school board name a new middle school after their community, complaining that the proposed name -- Landing Hills Middle School -- is a contrived tag that doesn't reflect the neighborhood's pride in its history.

"It's more personal than anything else," said Barbi Jacobs, an Elkridge resident whose 11-year-old daughter may attend the school next year. "We're proud of Elkridge, and we like Elkridge in the name."

The school, which would be the county's newest when it opens next school year, is under construction on the grounds of Elkridge Elementary School off Montgomery Road.

The Landing Hills name, the choice of a 14-member committee made up of parents, students and school officials, is one of three under consideration by the school board. The other two are Thomas Viaduct Middle School and Lawyers' Hill Middle School.

The name Landing Hills is derived from the school's hilly terrain and from Elkridge Landing, a site where boats once brought ashore tobacco and slaves and conducted business with nearby mills.

Many residents say they would like the new school to be named Elkridge Middle School. But that name violates a 1990 county school system policy intended to avoid duplication of existing names.

Schools with the same name cause confusion for the U.S. Postal Service and others unfamiliar with the Howard County Public School System, said Alice W. Haskins, instructional director of middle schools for county public schools.

"From a logistical standpoint, [these] schools became somewhat overwhelmed with mail from other schools," Ms. Haskins said. She said that such schools -- Patapsco Middle School, for example -- also receive calls from people who confuse the schools with others outside Howard County.

But some parents refuse to accept that argument.

"We're not dumb down here in Elkridge," said Nancy Myers, whose 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son may be redistricted to the new school next year. "We do have enough sense to make the difference between elementary and middle school."

Some students feel the same way.

"We have an Elkridge Fire Department and an Elkridge Library. We should have an Elkridge Middle School," said Amanda Jacobs, 11, who attends Ellicott Mills Middle School and may be redistricted to the new school next academic year.

Some Elkridge residents said the proposed Landing Hills name is the latest in a series of slights their community has suffered recently.

"We can't get our own post office, we can't get our own ZIP code," said Ms. Jacobs, referring to efforts to create a post office and ZIP code separate from Baltimore.

Without Elkridge in the school's name, it becomes just another school, parents said.

"We don't want to lose our identity," Ms. Jacobs said. "We don't want to be part of Columbia or Baltimore."

School board Chairman Dana F. Hanna, who grew up in St. Denis, a former community south of Relay, said he prefers the name "Elkridge Landing."

"I'm left wondering if we have truly sought out the historical significance or simply found a name pleasing to the ear," Mr. Hanna said.

Members of the naming committee, meanwhile, defend their choice and the process that was used in its selection.

The committee began with a list of names and gradually whittled that down to Thomas Viaduct, Lawyers' Hill and Landing Hills.

That list then was distributed to students who expect to be redistricted to the new northeast middle school next year. Those students now attend Elkridge, Rockburn and Worthington elementary schools, as well as Mayfield Woods, Ellicott Mills and Wilde Lake middle schools.

Students and parents also were asked to suggest names for the new school.

"The overwhelming response was for Landing Hills," Ms. Haskins said. After the survey, the committee voted, picking Landing Hills and sent the list to the school board.

Ms. Haskins said that the other two names had problems.

For example, although the Thomas Viaduct is a local historical landmark, the name would violate a school system policy against naming schools after individuals. Philip E. Thomas was the first president of Baltimore and Ohio railroad.

Committee members were concerned that the name Lawyers' Hill -- picked for a neighborhood of large stately homes -- may alienate some parents.

"Some people objected to Lawyers' Hill because they didn't want others to be put off by the name," said Melissa Thatch, a parent representing Mayfield Woods Middle School on the committee.

While he is not ready to eliminate the 4-year-old policy forbidding name duplication, Mr. Hanna said he is ready to see the rules bent some.

"I don't think it should be so engraved in stone," he said.

A public hearing on the Landing Hills school name is scheduled for Oct. 13 at the school board. The board will make a final decision Oct. 27.

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