Richard Hyatt: How local schools get their names

July 19, 2012 

After several years of using a city map or an atlas to name new schools, the Muscogee County School Board is finally being creative and thoughtful.

The suggestion this week to name the county's newest middle school for Judge Aaron Cohn is a perfect example. Board members will discuss that idea Monday, less than three weeks after the Fourth of July death of the beloved juvenile court judge. The proposal came from District 6 representative Mark Cantrell, who called Cohn "a champion of children."

Cantrell represents the area around the Garrett Road campus. The school is under construction and is due to welcome students early next year. His motion to name the middle school for Cohn -- a nationwide advocate for juvenile justice -- is appropriate and so is the move away from schools that are named for parts of town, streets and creeks.

Education is personal. A child learns from a teacher or a person, not the road in front of the schoolhouse or a quadrant on the map. Honoring someone who has supported young people and the act of learning seems logical.

That was true in earlier years. Look at the older schools in town. Shaw and Daniel honor longtime superintendents. Jordan, Hardaway, Kendrick and Arnold honor members of the school board. Allen, Dimon and Richards honor elected officials. Carver, Spencer, Mathews and Hannan honor educators. Blanchard and Brewer honor local physicians. Johnson honors a PTA activist.

Boards in the 1990s began to shy away from using the names of public figures after a bitter controversy erupted about the naming of a new elementary school.

A resolution to name the school on Talbotton Road after former board member and teacher Sara Spano passed. Then people from the neighborhood around the school asked the panel to consider longtime teacher and principal Lyda Haywood Hannan. The school was named for Hannan, which upset the Spano family. They were not miffed with Hannan. They were mad about the process. The board made a promise to name a future school for Spano, but the pledge was never kept.

A resolution to avoid naming schools for individuals brought on a rash of colorless names. Nothing against the school, but the most flagrant choice was Northside High. When graduates say they got their diploma from Northside, people don't know if they're talking about Northside in Warner Robins, Northside in Atlanta, Northside in Fort Smith, Ark., or any of the other Northsides scattered around the country.

If Cantrell had listened to former Superintendent Susan Andrews, he would have followed suit. Andrews suggested the school be called Garrett Pines Middle School, honoring streets of unfinished houses in a Midland subdivision. Cantrell instead chose to name it for a man of honor. And a true champion of children.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.

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