Meadville Tribune

November 13, 2012

Crawford Central: Two sides advocate for naming rights to school

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — Members of Crawford Central School Board heard presentations from representatives of two groups of residents with two different ideas about a suitable name for the school at the corner of South Main and Linden streets in downtown Meadville now officially known as “East End @ Second District Elementary School.”

Using the name “Second District School” was the recommendation of the first group to speak. Calling the school “Elias Allen Elementary School” was the recommendation of the second. By prior agreement, each presentation was limited to five minutes.

After hearing both presentations during the board’s monthly work session Monday night, “I would think we would be ready to put this decision to rest,” President Jan VanTuil said, noting that she hoped the board would make its decision official during its upcoming monthly meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the district’s Instructional Support Center in Vernon Township.

“There is no need for board discussion,” board member Richard Curry said. “We can simply vote on Monday.”

Without discussion, board members concurred.

When the board convenes Monday, the text of a resolution with a blank for the name of the school will be included on the agenda. When a resolution including the new name has been moved and seconded, there will be an opportunity for board discussion before the vote is taken. If the first resolution fails, it is expected that another resolution — proposing a different name — will follow.

Following is the full text of both statements made to the board Monday night, in the order they were presented.

Keep the name ‘Second District School’

Following is the full text of the statement presented by Melissa Burnett, then handed to The Tribune:

We have been given five minutes to substantiate and defend the name of Second District School. It would be interesting and thought provoking if the school building could talk. One would wonder what it would have to say.

Let us use our imagination and give a listen to Second District School as it speaks to us:

I was born in 1930 with the helping hands of hard laborers for the purpose of serving the Second District section of Meadville. My inhabitants would come from a very cultural diversified part of a proud community. I even had a gymnasium — the first in town. I had the opportunity to listen to the first Boys Choir in the city. I was so proud because I would be the first building in the state to be desegregated. I am 82 years old now — and I have observed literally thousands of students matriculate through my halls to become worthy, productive members of our society. Now, there are people who want to take away my name and demolish the many fine attributes I have been a part of.

It is my understanding they named me because of my location in town as they did with the other schools. I thought that made a great deal of sense because it would be helpful for residents and visitors to locate me.

I have been told that some people want to change my name so students could be given a “new start.” I suppose they feel by changing my name, the students will automatically learn better. I have observed the beginning of 82 school years and each and every one of them presented a new and fresh start for the children. And do you know — the children mingled beautifully and my name never had to be changed. I did discover however, that teachers, administration, and parents would make a difference in the educational process. I firmly believe each new school year will present that “new start” and I feel confident changing my name would not make a difference.

It was very sad and sorrowful for me to experience the closing of other schools in my district at various times for financial and other reasons. But I was happy to receive the many students from these schools and I, as well as other schools, welcomed them with open arms. The children adjusted beautifully as they usually do, and never was there a debate or suggestion of changing any school’s name.

In my experience since 1930, I have discovered that all schools develop a pride in their building. Any attempt to remove that pride could possibly generate divisiveness and possibly divide a community when we should all be working together. Is it a good idea to initiate a precedent that does nothing to enhance the educational process?

I feel badly because a few people want to change my name. I feel I am being punished for something I did not do. I have watched as my students were taken from me and placed in other schools so it would be easier for that school. Then — when my students were returned — they attempted to remove my identity by changing my name. They even called me “labeled” and said I had a “stigma.” I have a powerful feeling my students for the last 82 years might take offense to that.

And finally, I feel sad because the school board would need to use tax payers’ dollars to change my name. I feel sad because our school district could better use that money for programs that would be more helpful than changing a name. I know for sure — I would be most happy if you would let my legacy continue and allow me to keep the name I was born with — Second District School.

I recognize that you have listened to all sorts of talk for all sorts of things pertaining to schools. I feel very proud that I can speak for the many supporters of Second District School. But I am especially pleased that you have taken the time to listen to a school building speak. I thank you for that honor.

Change school’s name to ‘Elias Allen Elementary School’

Following is the full text of the statement presented by Beth Burnett, then emailed to The Tribune:

I’m here to speak for those parents with children at East End @ Second District who have been working toward a name change for almost a year. The first mention of a name change for the school was made during the public hearing in January 2012 that was held to gather reactions to the proposed closing of East End Elementary School. At that time, the issue was raised, and Jan VanTuil indicated “a name change can be discussed” (reported in Meadville Tribune of 01/23). Momentum gathered around this idea and numerous informal conversations began to take place among parents and between parents and Board members. At no time were we discouraged from pursuing a name change.

We are in favor of a name change for the following reasons.

1. The student body inside East End @ Second District is a blended one. The school attendance areas were redistricted when Second District School was closed in May 2011; at that time 35% of the student body at Second District was redistricted to East End Elementary. In May 2012, when East End School was closed, everyone in the school at that time — students, teachers, staff and principal — was moved in mass to the Second District building.

2. So, two schools have been closed, and a new one has been born. It would be unfair to ignore the sense of loss on all sides for these closings; but it would also be unfair to not recognize the energy and momentum behind giving the school a new beginning. If the name does not change, the school will continue to be recognized by the State of Pennsylvania as East End School. That is not right. We recognize the school is no longer East End School, nor is it Second District School, and we believe that the school deserves a new beginning. This is true for the student body, teachers and staff, and the parents who have committed themselves and their time to the school’s transition from the East End building to the Second District building and who now are heading initiatives at the school.

3. Building names and functions change in relation to population changes/demographic changes, historical context, and even the changing meaning of words. This is part of looking to the future and not looking at the past; and to recognizing the actual nature of the student body. Schools in Meadville have themselves changed names over time. Before being known as Second District School, the same school had been called Huidekoper Grammar School and the South Ward School. And blended schools often get new names: for instance, this past May, it was decided that the three high schools of Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Valley, and Linesville, would become Conneaut Area Senior High when they merged. A new mascot was also chosen.

After discussing the name change at length, we would like to propose the new name of Elias Allen Elementary School for the school that is currently known as East End @ Second District

I’ll start by reading from the historical signpost situated on the school’s property: “An event here in September 1880 led to the end of segregation by race in the state’s public schools. At the South Ward school, Elias Allen tried unsuccessfully to enroll his two children. He appealed to the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, and Judge Pearson Church declared unconstitutional the 1854 state law mandating separate schools for Negro children. This law was amended, effective July 1, 1881, to prohibit such segregation.”

We believe that the name of Elias Allen Elementary School would provide the school with a natural opportunity — perhaps a designated Elias Allen Day — to focus on local history and the history of desegregation. Such a day helps students to be aware and proud of the historic and heroic person who influenced history in the very building in which they are being educated. We see diversity as one of the school’s strengths: the school provides a social environment in which children learn from each other about what makes us all the same and also about differences, and how to respect those differences.

Please consider that the name change initiative was initially supported by the Board and that things soured only when community members began contesting it. Unfortunately, the debate ever since has been inflamed by misinformation, misreporting, and also by harsh, and sometimes slanderous, judgments. Put very simply: What the parents with children at East End @ Second District want is a name change that will allow the blended school to begin anew in a context that celebrates diversity and that does not reflect the politics of division that have eroded our sense of community over the past two years as many difficult changes, including two school closings, have taken place in Crawford Central’s elementary schools. If the Board would prefer to keep geographical school names, we have a second proposal to make but see it as secondary and much less inspiring than Elias Allen Elementary School.

We know that this decision will be a difficult one for the Board, but we truly believe that it is time to put the past two years in the past. The Board is in a position to vote in favor of a name that the new school can rally behind and give its own meaning to. It is time to think big and to think hard about the people concerned directly by the school — those people who are now involved in it. Part of the Board’s responsibility in this case is to separate rhetoric from reality; to honor where the momentum is inside the school; and to respect its own initial openness to name changes. We know that you will take these comments to heart, and hope that you will resolve to set the school on a course toward the future.