Panel recommends new school name

By Curt Yeomans


A Clayton County Board of Education committee wants the new, unnamed High School No. 9 in Riverdale to be named the Charles R. Drew High School. But in order for the committee get its wish, the full board will have to change its school naming policy.

Based on the existing board policy, high schools can only be named for the communities they serve. The school board is set to vote March 23 on the policy change, and on the school's name.

The ad-hoc naming committee wants the school named for Charles R. Drew, a doctor who made history with his work on blood plasma. It led to the development of blood banks in the United States during World War II.

The committee was composed of school Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson, Vice-Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs, and board members Mary Baker, Trinia Garrett and Jessie Goree. Garrett did not attend the meeting Tuesday, although Anderson announced she was on her way before the session began.

"We're trying to tie it into the health occupation theme at the school," Goree said. "We should have that name in keeping with the theme we want to use."

High school No. 9 is located on a 155-acre parcel of land behind Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, on what will eventually be an extension of Garden Walk Boulevard.

The high school, which is still under construction, is set to open in August with 847 ninth-, and 10th-graders. Higher grade levels will be added as the initial students grow older. It will have a ninth-grade academy, with career education studios that include health and biotechnical occupations, as well as culinary arts, public safety and engineering.

The school is designed to have a capacity of 1,850 students.

The committee was unanimous in its decision to name the school after Drew because of his work as a medical pioneer, and the school's emphasis on the health occupation field.

The problem facing the school board is that it has to put policy revisions on the table for one month to allow for public input.

Gary Townsend, who was named principal two months ago, said a name was needed several months ago. The school system did not begin asking for public input on the name until January.

"We needed it last August," Townsend said to the shock of committee members. "There have been some delays in construction, and we have not been able to purchase uniforms for our athletic teams because we have not had a name."

Townsend later explained that the school's marquee, and lettering for the school building, have not been ordered because of the absence of a name. Uniforms for the athletic teams have been ordered in the school's colors of navy blue and "old" gold, but they cannot be finished without a name, he said.

No explanation was given for why the district did not ask the board to name the school last year. Townsend pointed out that no one currently sitting on the board, except for Anderson and Garrett, who joined the board in July 2008, was in office when a decision needed to be made.

"If we had known you needed a name ... You know what, we need to take a vote on this today," Anderson told her fellow board and committee members. "We can't put it off."

School system General Counsel Julie Lewis told the committee there is a clause the board can use in the policy that dictates how policies are made, or revised, to avoid a one-month wait. It states the wait can be avoided in emergency situations where immediate action is needed. Lewis told the committee the board could change the facility naming policy under this premise.

Drew, who died in 1950, was an African-American blood specialist, surgeon, educator and scientist. In 1940, he became the medical director over eight New York City hospitals involved in the Plasma for Britain Project, according to a biography on the American Red Cross' web site. The program was designed to collect stockpiles of blood for civilians and servicemen and women in Britain.

While he worked with the Plasma for Britain Project, Drew helped develop mass production techniques for blood plasma, according to the American Red Cross. This included ordering the construction of equipment, which was based on existing European equipment, that used a cream separator to separate blood plasma from red blood cells.

In 1941, the U.S. military asked the American Red Cross to set up blood bank centers, based on Drew's efforts, according to the Red Cross.

The school board ad-hoc naming committee picked Drew over 95 other submissions, including Flint River High School, Southern Regional High School, Garden Walk High School, Clayton County High School, Southern Crescent High School, Margaret Mitchell High School, Valencia Seay High School of Excellence and Travon Wilson High School.

Several people offered names which referenced the district's accreditation crisis: SACS High School, Accredited High School, Renaissance High School and Phoenix High School.

Six people submitted either Barack Obama High School, or Yes We Can High School.

One anonymous suggestion was Swamp High School, a reference to the school system's controversial 2006 purchase of the land from developer John D. Stephens. The name refers to claims made by some residents that the property was swamp land.

The district will make ConnectED telephone calls in the next week to students living within the school's proposed attendance boundaries, so the youths can vote on a mascot. School officials are still seeking mascot suggestions that are related to Drew, but Townsend said the options include the Titans, Spartans and the Wolverines.