VERNON TOWNSHIP — 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.