Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 6, 2013

A good change

Renaming schools for city where they are makes sense

The Independent

ASHLAND — Thumbs up to a proposal being considered by the Ashland Independent Board of Education to change the name of Paul G. Blazer High School to Ashland High School and the name of George M. Verity Middle School to Ashland Middle School. The change would immediately tell anyone in Kentucky where the two schools are located.

The change also would officially give the high school the same name people throughout the state already know it by.

The high school was not named for Paul G. Blazer, who turned a small refinery he purchased in 1924 into a major, international corporation, until 1962 when the school moved from its building on Lexington Avenue to its current campus. That’s when the Ashland board voted to name the new high school after the city’s most famous resident. Blazer was a strong advocate for the construction of the high school and donated $100,000 to assure the school included an indoor swimming pool. He made further donations that helped pave access roads, provide a communications system and endow an extracurricular activities fund.

When the old Putnam and Coles junior high schools were merged in the early 1980s, the school board named the combined school in the renovated Putnam building after the founder and former chief executive of Armco Inc. The school board reasoned if the high school was named in honor of the leader of Ashland Oil, the middle school should be named in honor of the founder of the steel company that was this community’s other major employer.

But in naming the two schools after two industrial barons, both schools lost some of their identity. They would have lost even more if people outside of this community had not continued to refer to the high school as “Ashland” instead of “Blazer.” In sports, it has always been the “Ashland Tomcats” not the “Blazer Tomcats.” In fact, when groups of Blazer students compete in sports or academics, they are known as “Ashland,” not “Blazer.” And when Blazer students are asked by people in other communities where they attend school, they are far more likely to say “Ashland” than “Blazer.” So why not make it official with a formal name change?

Members of the Ashland board sent up what could be considered a “trial balloon” on changing the names of the high school and middle school during the Jan. 28 meeting.

“Maybe it’s time. It needs to be discussed,” said board member Charlie Chatfield, who brought up the idea based on suggestions from some alumni.

The topic is one that crops up from time to time, member Trish Hall said, and mostthink it would be a good idea.

The question may come down to how attached Ashlanders are to the memory of Blazer’s namesake, and that of Verity as well. But this community has changed greatly since Ashland High School became Paul G. Blazer High and the old Putnam and Coles junior highs merged and became George M. Verity Middle School.

Ashland Inc. has moved its corporate headquarters to Covington and sold the Catlettsburg Refinery and other oil interests to Marathon Oil. Since 1980, Armco Steel has become AK Steel and the number of workers at the Ashland Works is fewer than half the number of worked there 30 years ago.

Instead of having the high school and middle school named after men who were important to the community’s past, it makes more sense to name the schools after the city where they are located. After all, despite all the changes of the last 50 years, Ashland remains a vibrant city that is important to the economic, educational, recreational and cultural life of this entire region.

In regards to the proposed name change, board member Carol Jackson said, “At some point we will discuss it, but our big priority now is the Verity renovation.”

We agree the Ashland Independent School District has higher priorities than changing the name of two schools, but we can’t see how renaming the two schools could interfere with the renovation of the middle school. It seems to us that all that would be necessary would be the school board’s approval of the name change and the funds to change the names on the schools.

Board member Molly Webb is right when she says the names of Blazer and Verity need to be “incorporated somewhere” in the Ashland school system because of the importance they played in city history. It’s just that neither name needs to be on schools. Having an Ashland High School and an Ashland Middle School in this city would be an improvement.