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BOE member questions practice of naming schools for people or families

April 14, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Exterior of the new Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School.
File photo

Seven Washington County Public Schools — including Bester and E. Russell Hicks — are named for people or families, but at least one board member wants that practice to stop.

School board member Karen Harshman raised questions about the practice during an April 2 board meeting.

One of her concerns, she said, is a belief that many people, especially over time, don’t have any knowledge of the person for whom a school was named.

Harshman also questioned how the board can determine that one person is more deserving than others for the honor, and noted that at one time, it appears that if a group raised enough money to be the main contributor for a facility, it could get naming rights.

Harshman said she knew of one case in which something was found out about the person after the school was named for the person.

When board member Wayne D. Ridenour encouraged her to elaborate, Harshman said, “It was as a contributor to Washington County public education and ... the person’s children went to a private school,” according to an online video of the April 2 meeting.

“So it just seemed like that was kind of a slap in the face of a lot of citizens who have dedicated much of their time to public education,” Harshman said.

Asked in a phone interview later that week to which school she was referring, Harshman said Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School.

“It’s not that I think she’s unworthy” of having a school named after her, Harshman said, but she said she found it ironic that a school was named after someone who sent her children to a private school.


Pillar in her community

Monroe’s son, Rodney, was a star basketball player at St. Maria Goretti High School in the mid-1980s and went on to be a standout player at North Carolina State University before playing for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. 

Rodney Monroe, contacted by phone April 8, said he was the only one of Ruth Monroe’s six children who attended a private school for part of his education.

“When I came along, she wanted to try something different for me, so she sent me to Goretti,” he said. Monroe said he attended Woodland Way Elementary School and Northern Middle School.

“I’m glad they named a school after my mother. I think it’s a great honor,” said Monroe, who coaches boys’ basketball at SouthLake Christian Academy in North Carolina. “I don’t have a problem with them naming schools for individuals who were pillars for their communities.”

The nomination for the primary school to be named for Monroe stated she “was a pillar in her community.”

Monroe, who died in 2005 at the age of 64, was appointed in 1980 to serve as executive director of Memorial Recreation Center on North Avenue in Hagerstown.

During a 2004 appreciation dinner in her honor, Monroe said she continued to be inspired by the children she had served over the years.

“God puts you where He wants you to be. And He’s put me where He wants me to be,” she said.

“She’s a person who gave her life, most of her life, to serving most of the people in the Jonathan Street area and that community. She could have found jobs making more money, doing other things, but her life was helping the community,” Rodney Monroe said.

During the April 2 board meeting, without referring to Monroe by name during the meeting, both Ridenour and board member Donna Brightman commented on the impact Monroe had on the community.

“I think sometimes people make contributions, and it doesn’t matter where their kids go to school, their contributions extend beyond their children attending a public school,” Ridenour said. “The contributions of the individual that you’re referencing are incredibly widespread ... in a community where education needed to be reinforced and, consequently, that was the reason for the honor.”

“I did go to that opening and it was a huge turnout of the community. It was the most people I’ve ever seen show up at a school opening. I was led to believe that that support was meant for that individual,” Brightman said.


Naming rights policy

Board member Jacqueline Fischer, who chairs the board’s Policy Committee, said there is no need for school officials to change the naming policy to find out more about nominees before deciding whether to name a school after a person.

The issue could arise when the board is considering a name for the “West City” elementary school, which is scheduled to open in August 2016, Fischer said.

Board President Justin Hartings, Vice President Paul Bailey, and board members Fischer, Ridenour and Brightman indicated they didn’t see a need to change the policy.

Board member Melissa Williams did not comment on the issue during the meeting.

Contacted last week, Williams said she didn’t share Harshman’s concern about the naming of schools and thought the current policy was fine.

The current policy states, “Schools and school facilities may be named for the geographical area in which they are to be located, after a historical event or place, or after an individual who has made a significant contribution to the community, the state, or the nation.”

Under the policy, the school board also may grant naming rights for a school or any part of a school facility that is donated or funded with private donations. Naming rights also can be granted for equipment, furniture, musical instruments or other items that are donated or paid for with private donations.

In 2010, Bailey was the only board member who didn’t vote to name the primary school for Monroe. At the time, he said he preferred Deer Grove Primary School.

Asked about his decision last Wednesday, Bailey said a number of names were submitted, and he liked Deer Grove because of the natural habitat in the area that was heavily populated by deer.

Bailey said he knew Monroe slightly, and was not disappointed that the school was named for her.

“I met her and congratulated her at the dedication,” he said.

As if he thought people would remember his mother as time passes by, Monroe said the situation is the same for others for whom facilities have been named, including the late Sen. Robert Byrd, for whom dozens of facilities are named.

“I played basketball 25 years ago in college and these people now that go to N.C. State, they see my jersey hanging in the rafters, but they have no clue who Rodney Monroe was,” he said. “It would have to take somebody to tell them what kind of basketball player I was for them to understand.”

Monroe was a two-time All-American at North Carolina State and remains the school’s all-time leading scorer. The university honored him by hanging his No. 21 jersey from the rafters of its basketball arena.

The nomination for the primary school on Yale Drive to be named for Ruth Monroe noted: “She was grandmother and mother to numerous children who did not have anyone. She served many years as the director of the Memorial Recreation Center in Hagerstown, and provided a safe haven there for the children in her community. She made them feel special by believing in them and helping them make good choices. She shaped their lives and will forever be remembered for her selfless acts.”

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