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Board ignored school naming committee

Published 8:07pm Thursday, June 20, 2013

By Enoch C. Copeland

In a democratic society, each person is ultimately responsible for his or her actions and accountable for those actions as an elected official.

As a member of the Suffolk School Board representing the Holy Neck Borough, it is my constitutional duty, as well as my obligation as my constituents’ representative, to inform them of the actions that took place June 13 concerning the naming of the new school in the southwestern area of our city.

I am also writing this op-ed, because with Holy Neck being partly rural, many Suffolkians are not blessed to have Charter Cable Communications to view school board meetings.

The citizens of the Southwestern school zone are well aware of the struggle that has occurred for the past 22 years to get the School Board and City Council to determine if there would be one school or two elementary schools for students residing in the Holland and Whaleyville villages.

From 2006 to 2008, the School Board agreed to construct one school in each village. Following the 2008 election of two new School Board members, a new agenda surfaced, and there would be just one new elementary school.

After approximately four years of hearing each other talk, the School Board and City Council members finally agreed upon a site. I give much credit to members of the City Council and the Planning Commission for their determination to construct the elementary school on Highway 58. This wise decision will avoid placing school buses on narrow secondary roads with farm equipment, log trucks, and overflowing ditches during heavy rains.

On June 8, during a graduation exercise, I was informed by one of my School Board colleagues that “the name Southwestern would not get the necessary four votes.” I thought it interesting, because if the four School Board members already knew their choice, why did the School Board select citizens for a School Board Naming Committee? Why did they have very busy people waste their time and bring us three names for the new school in order of preference: Southwestern, Southwestern-Whaleyville and Pioneer?

Moreover, why on June 13 did School Board members allow six citizens — Delegate Algie Howell Jr., retired U.S. Army Col. Wardell Baker, Holland High School graduate and former Forest Glen High School Principal Mills March, former Southwestern Principal Lorita Mayo, Jean Copeland and J. Harold Faulk — each with deep roots in the Holland and Whaleyville communities, to seek the School Board’s support to retain the name of Southwestern due to its historical status and value to our city?

What was lost by many during the deliberations, was that Southwestern and its predecessor Nansemond County Training School, began educating students from the Whaleyville community in 1956. Thus, this “new beginning” that my colleagues spoke of with the naming of Pioneer Elementary is certainly not new at all.

In conclusion, to my dismay, the committee was never introduced to the public. Clearly naming the school “Pioneer” is the Suffolk City School Board members’ prerogative. But by not recognizing members of the naming committee, who agreed to serve, does not speak well for us as School Board members.

I hope I have shed some light on the old, but new, elementary school that has been in the news for the past 22 years. When a leader loses his integrity, it doesn’t bode well for leaders.

Within a democracy, the voters will have some say in the matter when they go to vote.

Enoch C. Copeland is a Suffolk School Board Member for the Holy Neck Borough. Email him at ecopeland6179@charter.net.

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