By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education is facing what school board member Pamela Adamson called "a good problem to have" at the board's meeting on Monday.
The board is expected to decide next week whether to name a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school being built in Clayton County's panhandle region after Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, or former Clayton County school board member Eddie White, one of Cathy's former employees.
The school system solicited public input on what the school should be called earlier this month, and Cathy's name was submitted 31 times, according to school system documents. White's name was submitted seven times. The school system is recommending Cathy's name, but several school board members suggested both men be considered for facility names.
The 80-classroom school is scheduled to open in August 2010.
"Eddie White and Truett Cathy have known each other over 50 years, and it was Truett Cathy who helped Eddie White pay for college," said school board member Mary Baker, who succeeded White as the District 6 representative on the school board.
"I think we should name the school after Eddie White, since he was the educator, and since Truett Cathy has been such a huge supporter of continuing education, I think we should name the Professional Learning Center [in Jonesboro] after him," Baker added.
Cathy and White have known each other since the 1950s, when the future educator was a cook in Cathy's Chick-fil-A Dwarf House restaurant in Forest Park. In 1955, White was trying to raise the money to pay for tuition at Morris Brown College, and a collection jar, labeled "Eddie's Morris Brown College Fund" was set out on a counter at the restaurant.
When White was preparing to enroll at the school, he did not have enough money to pay the tuition bill so Cathy wrote him a check to cover the difference. White went to Morris Brown, and graduated 50 years ago. He went on to work in Clayton County schools for 35 years, starting as a teacher, and working his way up through the administrative levels of the district.
He later served on the Clayton County school board, from 2004 to 2008.
Cathy's original restaurant was in Hapeville. In his book, "It's Easier to Succeed than to Fail," Cathy wrote that he also taught Sunday school classes at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro for several years. Chick-fil-A started a scholarship program in 1973, and handed out its 25,000th scholarship in Atlanta in late August.
When the milestone scholarship was handed out, Chick-fil-A officials said the Leadership Scholarship program had given out $25 million dollars in scholarships over the years. During a ceremony to commemorate the milestone, Chick-fil-A officials recognized White as the first, unofficial recipient of Cathy's Leadership Scholarship.
White and Adamson, who represents the southern part of the county on the school board, said Cathy also lives near the new school, which will be located at 11808 Panhandle Road, in Hampton.
Cathy could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
During the school board meeting on Monday, school board Vice-Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs said she supported naming facilities after both men. The school system's Professional Learning Center has not yet been named after any person, or area. However, Burroughs urged her colleagues to remember who the majority of people submitting name suggestions for the school recommended to district officials.
"We should remember the majority of people suggested we name the school after Truett Cathy," Burroughs said. "I say we name the school after him, and then name the Professional Learning Center after Eddie White."
White said he is honored that his name is being considered for the name of the school, but he called on the school board to name the school after Cathy instead.
"We need unity, and it must be shown by all nine members voting unanimously in support of naming the school after Truett Cathy," White said. "We need to let him know we appreciate what he's done for this community, and for education in general ... When we talk about Truett Cathy, he is the legend."
School board policy states the district cannot name a facility after a living person without his, or her, consent. The school board is scheduled to vote on a name for the K-8 school during its Oct. 5 business meeting.
If the new school is named after Cathy, there is a possibility it could share a mascot with the company that he built. Clayton County Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson told school board members that the top three mascot suggestions from the public were the eagles, the tigers and - the cows.
Chick-fil-A's "Eat Mor Chikin" cows have been central to the company's advertising for several years.