Panel rejects renaming of school PTA had proposed naming elementary in memory of principal

June 30, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Despite the support of more than 1,000 people in the Winfield community, the Board of Education rejected yesterday an effort by Winfield Elementary School PTA to rename the school in honor of J. Raymond Mathias, its longtime principal, who was killed last month in a car accident.

"I had originally favored the idea because I believed it was what the community wanted," said board member Carolyn Scott. "Since then, we have learned that it's not what the entire community wants."

Many Winfield residents were opposed to the change because the name Winfield Elementary School is one of the last unifying features in the community and gives the area a sense of place, board members said.

"This [the school] is the only concrete thing that has the name of Winfield, and I think that's very significant," said Scott, noting that several Winfield alumni asked her not to support the name change.

Board member Gary Bauer agreed.

"I thought it was a great idea at first, but the community identifies with the school," he said.

Lesley Long, the PTA member who presented the name change petition to the board, said she was disappointed -- though not surprised -- by the panel's decision.

"I personally think their reasons are a little lame," said Long, who noted that the Winfield name is prominently featured in Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department.

She said she hadn't expected that the effort to rename the school would spark controversy.

"It was never supposed to be something that would divide the community," she said. "It was meant to be in the spirit of remembering a man who dedicated his career to educating a lot of our children."

The 52-year-old educator was killed while running an errand for the school May 11, when a tractor-trailer hit his car broadside near Route 26 and Woodbine Road, about a half-mile from the school. He had served as principal of Winfield for 18 years, and the school community was devastated by his death.

Only a few days after the accident, parents who were volunteering at the school raised the idea of renaming Winfield.

But board members expressed concerns about renaming schools in response to a death in a school community.

"I don't want to set a precedent of changing the names of schools every time there's a tragedy in the school system," board member Ann Ballard said.

Ballard and board member Joseph D. Mish said that naming a school after a person inevitably leaves out others who also are deserving of the honor. Specifically, they mentioned two former Winfield principals who had strong ties to the school-- Lionel Yohn and Arthur Griffey.

"Because they weren't killed tragically in an accident, are we going to overlook what they did for schools?" Ballard asked.

Winfield resident Wanda Legore, who attended yesterday's board meeting because of the name change issue, said the board made the right decision.

"The name is the community's name," Legore said. "There has been a Winfield school in that location for 64 years."

Lori Crocken, Winfield PTA president, said she understands the board's reasons, but maintains the situation is unique.

"He died on duty," Crocken said. "To my knowledge he's the only one, and that gives it a little bit more of a meaning."

Long and Crocken said that Mathias will be honored in some way at Winfield Elementary. Shortly after his death, the school began collecting donations for a memorial fund, and is forming a committee to determine a tribute. Possibilities include a memorial garden and naming or upgrading the library in his honor.

School officials said they were unable to recall another attempt by residents to rename a school. As an alternative to renaming the school, board members suggested naming an athletic field, classroom, media center or other area at Winfield in honor of Mathias.

Under Board of Education policy, if a school is to be named after a person, the individual must have made a significant contribution to education or society in general at the local, state or national level. The individual also must have demonstrated certain attributes, including effective citizenship, community service and excellent character and general reputation.

William Winchester, Elmer Wolfe, Robert Moton and Charles Carroll elementary schools and Francis Scott Key High School were named decades ago, but board members haven't been receptive to naming new schools after individuals in recent years.

The last successful effort to change a name occurred in 1993, and was proposed by the center's school improvement team. At that time, Carroll County Center for Exceptional Children became Carroll Springs School.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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