Robert E. Lee, Jr. High School will keep its name, at least until next month. The city school board decided not to accept a recommendation from a special committee to rename the school Neville Jr. High School.
That recommendation, made during Tuesday’s regular board meeting, sparked controversy when the board’s majority refused to accept the recommendation and sent it back to the facilities committee for more deliberation.
The committee approved by the board consisted of teachers, students, board appointed representatives and parents of the school. It received 44 naming recommendations and other suggestions, but ultimately decided on recommending the name of Neville Jr. High by a vote of 14-2.
The family of the late M.H. Williams, Jr. waged a campaign for Williams to be considered for the honor.
However, the board has traditionally followed the lead of the school board members who represent a particular school in naming decisions. However, Tuesday night the board ignored the sentiments of the community and the school’s board representative and turned down the committee’s recommendation.
Board member Sharon Neal Greer, District VII, voted with to accept the Neville Jr. High name, saying she thought it was important to vote how their community chose to name the school.
The Board heard from Natalie Williams Stevenson, Williams’ granddaughter; and Ibra January, a man Williams mentored. They both lauded Williams a great educator who influenced many lives.
Another man, Franz Hill, told the board he was happy that the board is changing the Robert W. Lee name.
Of the 44 names suggested Williams and Neville were suggested more than others.
Dr. Brent Vidrine told the board that the suggestions were not votes, they were simply suggestions.
Board member Bill Willson said he and board member Jennifer Haneline attended community meetings and followed the process. He said he was satisfied that the recommendation represented the feeling of the community stakeholders.
Since Lee Jr. High is a feeder to Neville High, the community felt it was natural for it to be named Named Neville Jr. High.
Willson said the community met and thoroughly discussed the issue including some who thought the name should not be changed. Some of the 44 persons suggested had actual ties to the school, as students and teachers, he said. He noted one of the suggested names was the first principal of Lee Jr. High who went on to become superintendent of schools.
However, he said after listening to all the committee voted to suggest the Neville name.
Board President Betty Cooper said Mr. Neville made great contributions to the system and has been honored with a school named after him. She said that another worthy individual should be considered if a naming opportunity presents itself.
Board member Daryl Berry said Williams was a great educator who should be considered. He offered an alternative, that Thomas Jefferson upper elementary be changed to Matthew Williams, Jr. Upper Elementary.
Willson said the same committee effort that was followed for the Lee renaming should be followed for the renaming of any school. He insisted that community stakeholders should have “buy-in” to any name change.