CNHI News Service
Two Ashland school board members faced off with an engaged class of seventh-graders on Wednesday at George M. Verity Middle School.
Board members Charlie Chatfield and Molly Webb were invited to Larry Bailey’s English class to discuss the potential name changes for Paul G. Blazer High School and Verity Middle School to Ashland High School and Ashland Middle School.
The topic has set off a firestorm since Chatfield mentioned it in passing at the end of the January board meeting. It hasn’t been discussed at a board meeting, but has become a hot topic on Facebook and throughout the community, with almost everybody weighing in with an opinion.
It will be on the board’s agenda for the Feb. 28 meeting, which is also expected to have a crowd of seventh-graders in attendance.
While most of the chatter has been about changing the high school from Paul G. Blazer High School back to Ashland High School, the students at Verity were more concerned about changing the middle school’s name.
The majority in the 100-member class didn’t approve and they supplied board members with reasons why.
Bailey will lead the school in a vote on the issue Friday and will pass those results on to the school board.
“I thought it was fabulous,” Chatfield said of the hourlong forum. “I thought they asked a lot of great questions.”
Both Chatfield and Webb offered no personal opinion about the name changes.
“For me in particular, the people that have talked to me, are the ones who are icons in Tomcat lore and history for sports reasons,” Chatfield said.
Because it’s not a “fact-based decision,” Webb said it’s a matter that needs a lot more discussion. However, she puts it behind several more important issues the board faces.
“We have a lot more we need to be focusing on,” she said.
On Wednesday, the forum opened with a point-counterpoint presentation from seventh-graders Dawson Coovert (for the change) and Ingam Acha (against the change).
Their presentations opened the door for a spirited question-and-answer session.
“The point and counterpoint was just great,” Chatfield said. “They gave this issue a lot of thought.”
Bailey, who team teaches with Kathy Hall, Stacey May and Lisa Swimm, said he likes to provide students with “real-world writing.”
He brought up the potential of students writing about school safety or the name changes, and the class was nearly unanimous about the latter.
“I’m a real-world teacher,” he said. “That write so much better when dealing with these kind of subjects. To finally get them to have passion about an assignment is exciting.”
The entire class was engaged and also had an opinion about changing the names.
Most of them were adamant about keeping the name George M. Verity Middle School.
They asked board members how they felt about the issue.
Chatfield called it an “emotional issue” with no right or wrong answer.
“The name change is an emotional thing,” Chatfield said. “I really don’t have an opinion. I went to Russell, anyway.”
The students asked if the changes would filter down to grade schools, which are also named for individuals.
“We’re a little different because we have multiple grade schools,” Chatfield said. “We only have one high school and one middle school.”
Webb said she wants to gather as much information as possible before making a decision.
“I want to be as informed as I possibly can be,” she said.
The board members got an education from the students, who peppered them with thoughtful questions.
The students are writing a persuasive letter to board members as an assignment. They can be for or against the name changes, Bailey said.
Ashland High School became Paul G. Blazer High School when the campus opened in 1963 in honor of the oil baron who believed deeply in a strong education system.
Much of the high school’s rich sports history is traced to when it was Ashland High School. It has been mostly sports fans pushing for the change back to Ashland High School.
“I think that’s why (board members) Charlie and Frank (DeMartino) have gotten most of the questions about it,” Webb said. “When he (Chatfield) brought it up, it was the first I’d heard about it.”
Verity Middle School has carried that name since opening in 1980 after Coles and Putnam junior highs closed.
Verity’s blue-and-red colors were a mesh of Coles and Putnam. There was a student contest to choose the nickname, which eventually became Patriots.
Verity Principal David Greene, a former baseball and basketball player for the Tomcats, said he was in favor of the name changes.
“But I also understand I represent a lot of stakeholders,” Greene said. “Opinions are very mixed.”
He has been impressed with the passion the students have shown.
“I love the fact that kids are this engaged,” he said.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.