Controversy over Georgiana school’s name

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Some parents and citizens of Georgiana remain opposed to the name chosen by the Butler County Board of Education for the city’s new school, which is scheduled to open in 2009.

In November the board voted to name the new $14 million facility the Butler County Magnet School. Board members said the name was selected based on what they desired the school to be: A technological, mathematics and science K-12 institution that will better prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.

But some parents called the naming of the school a slap in the face to the people of Georgiana.

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“You take the name Georgiana out of the school and you take the heart out of this town,” said Pam Kilpatrick, who has helped organize a series of meetings this month with fellow parents to try and get the board to reverse its decision.

According to Darrell Sanders the parents have collected over 600 signatures from Georgiana citizens on a petition they plan on presenting to board members during the next board meeting in January.

“What they said to us when they made this decision was that we don’t matter,” said Sanders, during a Monday night meeting in Georgiana.

Superintendent Mike Looney said he felt as far as the board was concerned the matter was closed.

“The board has voted, the board has named the school,” he said. “I certainly can empathize with the people who want the school to be named Georgiana or want the school to be named Robert. L. Austin. I think the reality of this is that anytime you have two schools consolidating like this, you’re going to have conflict and controversy arising from the naming of the school. There is no way to make everyone happy in this regard.”

Looney said he supported the board’s decision.

“I think the name of the school responsibly and adequately reflects the mission and vision of the new school,” he said. “I think in the long run those people who are currently opposed to the name of the school will see the benefits of having a Magnet school in Georgiana. The reality is the board has acted on this matter and we’re moving forward. I certainly don’t want to dismiss or diminish their feelings or opinions, but this matter is behind us. We’re moving forward.”

Georgiana Mayor Mike Middleton attended Monday’s meeting, as did County Commissioner Jerry Hartin (Dist. 1). Hartin was openly critical of the board’s decision after the school was named, calling it a “divisive issue” in the Georgiana community. Middleton said he asked board members to delay naming the school until an open discussion could be held with Georgiana supporters, faculty and students.

“Obviously, they didn’t,” he said.

The school’s name has caused dissension even in McKenzie parents, who fear the name is a warning shot from the board signaling McKenzie School’s eventual closing.

Larry Johnson, who has children attending McKenzie, said he believed that.

“If they change the name of your school, that’s just the next step,” Johnson told Georgiana supporters Monday. “You’re fighting for the name of your school. We’re fighting for the life of ours.”

Looney called those suspicions unfounded.

“As I have said before as superintendent I have no desire or recommendation to close McKenzie,” he said. “The McKenzie School is – in many ways – the heart of that community. And we understand that. Having said that, the board is made up of five individual board members and each board member has their own individual views on that. But as the superintendent I have no intention of recommending we close McKenzie.”

Heather Nixon, whose daughter is a junior at Georgiana High School, said via e-mail that the parents remain committed to seeing the board gives the school’s name further thought.

“Our newly formed action group is serious and ready to make the necessary commitments necessary to be heard and see changes take place,” she said. “By choosing a name that is inclusive of the entire county, the identity of who Georgiana is as a community has been stripped without community consent. We are all in agreement that the school is the heartbeat of the community and one should identify itself with the other.”