New high school in Cary may not bear the town’s name

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

— It looks less likely that a new high school in Cary will bear the name of the town.

The Wake school board will have to come up with names for 16 new schools following last month’s passage of an $810 million school construction bond issue. But during a board committee meeting Wednesday, several board members said they want to avoid using names of towns or people because of the potential controversy attached to those options.

“I think it would be wise for us to avoid that direct kind of a municipal tie,” school board member Jim Martin said. “I know that’s not popular in some quarters, but we’re an ever-expanding county. It’s hard to tell where one municipality starts and one ends.”

No formal votes were taken at the facilities committee meeting, but a majority of the board members was present. The discussion signals that schools will probably continue to be named after roads, historic communities or geographic features such as creeks.

The position isn’t absolute. This month, the board voted to use South Garner as the name for a new high school in Garner.

School staff have presented four choices for a new high school in Cary:

• Green Level. Betty Parker, director of real estate services for Wake schools, said the name was suggested because of geographic location and historical features. She said the Green Level community is well-known in the area and that the site is adjacent to Green Level Church Road.

• White Oak. The school site is in White Oak township, and water from the site flows into White Oak Creek, Parker said.

• Roberts Road. Drivers will mostly access the school from Roberts Road, Parker said.

• Southwest Cary. This name would identify the area of town where the school will be located, Parker said.

Board member Susan Evans said she’s not thrilled that one of the choices for the school is Southwest Cary High. But Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht has said that town leaders want Cary incorporated into the school’s name.

Evans, who represents the area where the school will be located, said she likes the name Green Level but is worried it might be confusing, considering Green Hope High is nearby. And she said White Oak might make people think of the Garner area, not Cary.

There hasn’t been any public outcry about potential names for the Cary school, Evans said. The naming of a new high school in Apex stirred controversy this year, and the board ultimately named the school Apex Friendship High as a compromise.

An exception, not the rule

Earlier this month, the school board passed a resolution requesting that the new career and technical education high school in South Raleigh be named after the late Vernon Malone, who was a state senator, school board chairman and chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Typically, the school board is in charge of naming schools, but the final decision on the technical high school rests with the commissioners because the building is owned by the county.

School board members said those recent actions should be considered the exception and not the rule.

“I don’t think we benefit the community or the system by engaging in whose name, or what name, to honor or to recognize,” said school board member Bill Fletcher, who represents Cary.

Many of Wake’s older schools are named after individuals, including school board members, other elected officials and school employees such as superintendents, principals and teachers. Some schools also bear the names of the municipalities where they are located.

Adams Elementary School in Cary, which opened in 1969, was the last school in the state’s largest school district named after a person. Henry Adams was a school board member.

After years of stormy sessions over whose names should appear on schools, the board banned naming schools for individuals. The ban on using people’s names was dropped in 2010.

Board members said Wednesday that they want school administrators to recommend a specific name instead of presenting a list of choices.

“I would love for this to be much more of a staff activity than at a board level,” Fletcher said. “I would rather be focused on other things than taking the time to be involved in naming of a school.”

Board members gave guidance on what they’d like staff to avoid recommending, including the names of Wake’s 12 towns.

“If you end up with Apex High, East Apex, or West Apex or South Apex, it just gets too cloudy and difficult for people to keep up with,” Evans said. “I think it’s better to stick with some of these historic and geographic features so that a school can have its own unique identity.”

Evans noted that the county’s growth can lead to problems with names. As an example, she cited West Cary Middle School, which opened in the 1965. Its location is no longer considered the western part of Cary.

Some board members also pointed to families’ complaints about not going to school in the town where they live. They said the problem is aggravated when the school’s name mentions a town. Some schools have students assigned from more than one municipality.

“The simple matter already is we don’t recognize municipal lines in student assignment,” board member Tom Benton said.

Board members also raised concerns about being drawn into political controversy if they’re asked to name schools after individuals.

“What happens if someone demands we name it Ronald Reagan High?” Fletcher said. “I don’t know if we want to get into that.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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