Lawrence school board to revisit changing South Middle School name to honor Native Americans

South Middle School students hang out on the patio outside the school after early release on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.

The Lawrence school board again will consider Monday a proposal to change the name of South Middle School to honor Native Americans.

A recommendation before the board would change the name of the school to Billy Mills South Middle School. Mills, who attended both Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas, won a gold medal in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A committee headed by Jennifer Attocknie, district coordinator for Native American services, is making the recommendation of the name change. In November, the board asked the committee to recommend two name changes with only one of the recommendations including a name of an individual. The second recommendation in the committee’s proposal is “N/A,” or not applicable.

The committee’s membership was open to all who wanted to participate, but did include South Middle School Principal Kevin Jones and Carole Cadue-Blackwood, who started the discussion about the name change with a June 2017 letter to the district.

In the letter and at a November board meeting, Cadue-Blackwood said a name change honoring Native Americans would improve racial relations at the diverse South Middle School and enhance minority students’ self-esteem and academic performance, and it would be appropriate because Haskell donated the land to the district on which South and the adjacent Broken Arrow Elementary School were built. It was a tradition among Native Americans to honor living warriors or distinguished elders, she said in defense of naming the school for Mills.

Billy Mills South Middle School was one of four name changes honoring Native Americans the South Site Council forwarded to the board for consideration in November. After those names were proposed, the board requested Attocknie’s committee make its recommendations. At that time, a majority of board members indicated support for a name change.

The board will also have a 6 p.m. work session on later morning start times for Lawrence and Free State high schools. Board member Rick Ingram has advocated for the later start times as a way to improve academic achievement as well as physical and mental health.

The board’s regular meeting will start at 7 p.m. Monday at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.