Lawrence school board wants additional input before renaming South Middle School

South Middle School students hang out on the patio outside the school after early release on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. A topic currently being considered is the renaming of the school after a notable Native American figure with local roots.

A majority of Lawrence school board members said Monday that they supported renaming South Middle School to honor the city’s American Indian heritage but wanted a single name recommended by the community before taking that action.

Supporters of the name change nearly filled the board’s meeting room Monday evening, and 11 of the 12 audience members who addressed the board spoke in favor of the name change. However, South Principal Keith Jones told board members that a survey of community stakeholders showed an almost even split between those who favored a name change and those who preferred no change. Many staff members and parents favored keeping the name South because of the strong tradition at the school, which will be 50 years old next school year, he said.

South parent Carole Cadue-Blackwood, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe who started the discussion to rename South with a June letter to the district, said that while South had a 49-year history, American Indian heritage in Lawrence traced back to the indigenous people who were here before white settlers arrived. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Haskell Institute, as the school was known before its name was changed to Haskell Indian Nations University, built on that tradition when they donated the land to the school district on which South Middle and Broken Arrow Elementary schools were built, she said.

Broken Arrow, built in 1968, was specifically named in honor of the donated land, according to that school’s website.

Cadue-Blackwood supported renaming South for Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Indian who graduated from Haskell High School and the University of Kansas and won the 10,000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Noting past board objections to naming schools or facilities for those still living, Cadue-Blackwood said it was an American Indian practice to honor elders and living warriors.

Keith Jones

“We believe that recognition of a notable Native American Haskell alumnus for the name change of South Middle School would recognize the historical significance of the Native American people on this land that became South Middle School,” she said. “Such recognition impacts the daily lives and serves as an inspiration for all students in the Lawrence school district.”

Billy Mills South was one of fives names the South Site Council had proposed to the board. The other four options were Kansa South; Arrowhead South; Jim Thorpe South (Thorpe was a Sac and Fox Indian and Haskell alumnus who won two Olympic gold medals at the 1912 games in Sweden); and retaining the original South Middle School name.

The one South parent, Jody Meyer, who spoke against the name change said the school’s parents and the community had received too little information about the issue.

The 11 speakers supporting the name change restated many of Cadue-Blackwood’s points and said renaming South would help academically engage American Indian and other minority students. They also spoke of the appropriateness of naming the school for Mills, who they said was actively involved in efforts to improve the lives of children.

Speaker Mary Loveland said a school named for such an individual rather than for a direction would be more inspirational.

All four of the district’s public middle schools — South, Southwest, West and Liberty Memorial Central — have a direction in their names.

School board member Vanessa Sanburn agreed with Loveland, adding that she didn’t know the South site, at 2734 Louisiana St., was a gift from Haskell until the district received Cadue-Blackwood’s letter.

“I do think recognition of giving that historical land is important,” she said. “It tells a better story than a directional name.”

Board members Rick Ingram, Melissa Johnson and Jessica Beeson also expressed support for the name change, although Ingram asked that the South Site Council forward a single name to the board. Board member Jill Fincher said she favored a change that somehow retained the South tradition. Such was the case when Central Junior High was renamed Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, she said. That school was so named because the building was once the site of Lawrence Memorial High School.

Because of the absence of board member Marcel Harmon and the desire to get additional community input, the board agreed to discuss at its Nov. 27 meeting the formation of a community committee that would be asked to recommend a single name to the board. Board President Shannon Kimball said the committee’s recommendation would be considered for approval at the board’s Dec. 11 meeting.