School Naming, Public Comment

Published 5:24 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BUCKINGHAM – Wednesday's school board meeting drew so many people that after all the seats were filled and there was no standing room left in the Window Room, some stood in the hallway.

Most were on hand to show their support for naming the school complex on Route 20 in honor of Carter G. Woodson.

After the usual opening that includes the Pledge and a prayer, Chairman Acie Allen, holding a stack of files filled with papers stated, “These are 1,374 suggestions to name the school down on Route 20. We certainly appreciate input from everyone.”

Email newsletter signup

Explaining that the deadline for submitting suggested names was March 13, Allen said they had not had time to look over them.

“So obviously because of that no decision is going to be made concerning the school name today,” stated Allen. “This was also announced at last month's meeting. We also announced at that meeting that this would be governed by Policy FFA.”

Noting that the policy states that any suggestions for naming a school shall be submitted in writing, the chairman reiterated, “Everything should be submitted in writing.”

Referencing the large stack of letters and petitions, Allen offered, “Well you did that, 1,374 of you did that.”

He shared, “I've glanced through a lot of them; and, there are a number of different names suggested in there and we thank you for all of them.”

Offering that while he had the floor, he wanted to put out a couple of personal comments, Allen talked about the school board's recent public hearing to gather input on the budget.

“We announced before that public hearing that we were going to come up two to three million dollars short in our funding next year,” he shared. “We were soliciting your assistance, your suggestions, your help in how to plan around that budget deficit.”

He asked the audience, “How many people came to that meeting?” After repeating his question, Allen stated, “We had one person speak at that meeting. One person cared that we were $3 million short.”

The chairman continued, “If an announcement came out in the paper tomorrow that SOL tests scores were down, that none of our schools were certified, how many of you would take the trouble to write a letter or come and complain about that?”

Looking at the stack of petitions and letters, Allen offered, “I thank you for these. Certainly, this is an important thing. However, my concern is we are more worried about the appearance of things and what goes on outside the school building than we are about what goes on inside the school building.”

He added, “Maybe we need to think a little bit harder about what's happening in the classroom instead of what it looks like from the outside.”

Talking about the days of one-room schools, Allen said a lot of learning took place in those schools even though they didn't look so good from the outside.

“It's not so much the appearance but what's happening inside that has to be important to all of us,” stated the chairman.

“But again, today we will have a public comment session in a few minutes and we will not entertain any comments with regard to naming the school. The announcement was made, the policy has been written that those comments are to be made in writing and submitted,” said Allen.

When Allen opened the public comment segment, Charles W. White went to the podium and introduced himself as a Buckingham citizen for the past 57 years and one of two teachers living in Buckingham who taught at Carter G. Woodson.

At that point, Allen asked, “Excuse me Mr. White, is this a comment about naming of the school on Route 20, sir?” The chairman asked White if he heard his explanation about no comments regarding the naming of the school.

“This is very disrespectful,” stated one audience member. “We pay taxes just like everybody.” She added, “No justice, no peace.” At that point, she and several others in the audience got up from their seats and left the room.

White, responding to Allen, explained that from where he was seated he was unable to hear what the chairman had said. In turn, Allen apologized for that and added that the acoustics in the room are bad.

White questioned, “So you don't want any comments about the naming of the school?”

Allen restated that it was announced last month that the board was governed by Policy FFA in its procedural manual. He explained that the policy calls for written comments and suggestions with regard to the naming of a school.

The chairman added, “Now, it is up to the board if they want to waive that in any fashion.”

School board member Sherry Ragland offered that if everyone was there to comment on the same thing then the board only needed one or two people to comment.

Vice Chairman Ed Wise asked the audience, “Would everyone be satisfied if we allowed Mr. White to speak?”

“Of course,” responded one woman with nods of agreement from others in the audience.

White shared that he understood a name under consideration is Carter G. Woodson Education Center.

Referencing Ken Woodley's editorial in The Farmville Herald about naming the school, White said that in his newspaper, The Informant, he listed six additional places.

White explained that one of those six is the Collegiate Academy on the Carter G. Woodson Campus in Washington. He shared, “This is a situation much the same as we have here on Route 20.”

However, he explained that the names on the buildings were large but the name of the campus was a little sign that one person described as a graveyard marker. “We would like to make sure that the sign is of significance size,” stated White.

According to White, if the board decides to name the school in honor of Carter G. Woodson, it would become a tourist attraction along with Ellis Acres Memorial Park and the Historic Village.

White said the effort to place the Carter G. Woodson name back on the Route 20 school, which prior to consolidation served as the Carter G. Woodson High School, began in 1993.

He explained that in 1969, people were told that the United States Department of Justice mandated that all schools in Buckingham lose their racial identity.

“But no one could produce a document to that effect,” stated White. However, he said the document was found not too long ago. “Not a word in here about changing the names of schools and that has tremendously upset people,” he said as he urged the board to give serious consideration to the Woodson name.

When Allen asked if anyone else wanted to address the board on any other topic, Royal Booker, identifying himself as an alumni of Buckingham County High School, said that he would like to see the gymnasium at BCHS named in honor of Coach Alfred D. Wilson, who coached his team that won the state championship in 1975.

Cecil Terry was next to the podium. Offering that he raised four kids and a number of grandchildren that attended Buckingham County Schools, stated, “Mr. Allen, I do take offense to your statement that there was only one person at the last meeting that had any concerns with the budget or whatever.”

He continued, “A lot of people are concerned about the budget in this county.” Terry noted that he was one of many who attended the budget public hearing last year and addressed the issue of closing Gold Hill Elementary School.

Terry told Superintendent Gary Blair that he appreciated the statements he made about trying not to close Gold Hill. He added, “I do realize that with a budget a couple of million dollars short something has to go.”

He shared that some people, like himself, had to work the night of the hearing. Terry offered, “But I do have a concern for the county…And I do have a concern for Gold Hill School.”

Reverend Eldridge was next to the podium. Noting that he is a citizen of the county as well as a graduate of Carter G. Woodson High School, he offered, “I do think it is an honorable thing to do to change the name back to Carter G. Woodson. He continued, “Because of who the man was not just because he was black but because of what he contributed to this society as well as the enhancement he brought and is still bringing to this county.”

After Eldridge left the podium, Allen asked if there were any more comments. However, he reminded that the audience agreed that Mr. White would speak on its behalf. The chairman added that there would be no more comments concerning naming the school.

Identifying himself as someone who has worked within the system and is fully vested in the community, Joii West Goodman stated, “I think the most fundamental question should be and the question that we need to ask one another is how can we come together.”

The father of a first grader continued, “How is it that we can come together not only for our future but also for the children of Buckingham County.” He offered, “Because, ultimately, they're the ones that are going to be affected by the decisions that are made here.”

Goodman stated, “Let's make sure that we stay focused on what we are here for and not for anyone's political persuasion or not for anyone's group or constituency but ultimately for the good of the children of Buckingham County.”

During a phone conversation with Allen on Monday, he explained that his focus has been on a budget that started out with a $3 million shortfall.

Offering that he said things at the beginning of the meeting that “obviously weren't necessary,” Allen shared his frustration with the contrast between the number that attended Wednesday's meeting to the few people that showed up for the budget hearing when the board was seeking input and assistance.

However, Allen reiterated that the board is abiding by its policy for naming schools.

That policy reads, “It is the responsibility of the Buckingham County School Board to determine the name of schools in the division. The Board will solicit and accept input from the public regarding school names but reserves the right to make the final decision regarding the name of any school.

“Suggestions regarding the name of a school must be in writing, must state the name of the person or group making the suggestion, and must state the reasons supporting the suggestion. No school will be named for a living individual. Schools may be named for individuals who have been deceased for at least 10 years.”