Veterans a winner in name game

November 12, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Ask a Howard County resident about Guilford Elementary and chances are they will identify the school with the neighborhood, a historic black enclave in East Columbia.

The Board of Education has often decided school names based on geographic location.

But with its 3-2 vote last week in favor of naming the new northeastern elementary school Veterans Elementary, the school board has broken with its policy.

The move came after more than a month of polite debate that followed a naming committee's decision to recommend the break with tradition. The school, near Route 103 and Long Gate Parkway in Ellicott City, is scheduled to open next year.

Some strongly favored the name Veterans Elementary, intended to honor Yingling-Ridley VFW Post 7472, which sold some of its land to build the school. The system received more than 100 letters of support.

But others, while saying they meant no disrespect to veterans, argued that the name did not follow the county's rules.

Joetta Cramm, a county historian, testified before the board last month that the new school should be named Hilton or Hilton Heights, which she explained was the historic name of the region when it was a part of Anne Arundel County.

"I think the name `veterans' is too generic," she said. "It doesn't give the school a unique name. That is a very political decision they are making. If that is called Veterans Elementary School, it doesn't identify it at all."

The board's discussion Thursday night seemed to encapsulate the issue -- with two board members who are newly elected to the County Council taking opposite positions.

Board member Mary Kay Sigaty said the panel would need to waive its policy to name the school Veterans Elementary and opposed doing that. She said that the committee's name did not fit the geographic-landmark requirement.

"We have policies, and we are suppose to follow our policies unless we decide to waive them for a specific reason," Sigaty said after the meeting.

Sigaty, who will represent west Columbia and Fulton (District 4) on the County Council, also objected to the naming committees rationale in naming the school after the VFW because the organization sold the system land for the school.

"We do not name schools after people who sell us the land," Sigaty said Friday morning. "If we did that, we would have lots of schools named after Jim Rouse because he gave us the land."

Diane Mikulis, who voted with Sigaty against the Veterans Elementary name, asked sarcastically if the school should be named "YMCA School" because the system also purchased part of the land from the YMCA.

But board member Courtney Watson said she felt comfortable with the system's naming committee decision. Members of the committee have said that they thought the system's definition of geographic landmarks included structures such as the VFW post.

"I thought it had wide support from the county and the County Council," said Watson, who will represent Ellicott City and Elkridge (District 1) on the council.

In the end, board members Watson, Patricia S. Gordon, and Joshua Kaufman agreed that the committee had properly done its job.

Even the board's student member, Wossen Ayele, said he felt it was unfair to make the naming committee choose another name.

"They put in a lot of hard work making this decision," Ayele said.

Howard County is not alone in the school naming debate.

Baltimore County changed its policy prohibiting naming a school after a person last year. The school system said recently that it intended to name a new school Vincent Farm Elementary.

Harford and Carroll counties have similar policies.

This also isn't Howard County's first brush with a school-naming issue.

In 1990, a group of pupils decided that the name Whiskey Bottom Elementary -- a historical reference to whiskey barrels that were rolled along Whiskey Bottom Road to the north -- was an embarrassment. The pupils pressured the school board and won the right to change the school's name to Laurel Woods Elementary.

A punctuation mark was at the center of a 2004 school-naming debate for Marriotts Ridge High School. Originally the school was to be named "Marriott's Ridge." But, Linda Wise, who was principal at the time, said that the name as punctuated suggested that the school was named after a person. She also said an apostrophe would add costs to uniforms and other school-related attire.

The school board already had rejected a committee's decision to name the school Stone Ridge. The reason? The board feared that the name would result in jokes about drug use.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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