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Gray matter: Rebel names erased from PA schools

Porterie: ‘Neutral names’

better for harmony, he says

 

Port Arthur’s seven-member school board took what might have been an unexpected turn Thursday night, renaming two public elementary schools for geographic areas of the city, not for historic people.

Gone are the names Robert E. Lee and Dick Dowling — two Confederate Army figures — from two elementary schools. In their place, by trustee vote, are the names Lakeview and Port Acres Elementary, respectively, named for the neighborhoods where the schools exist.

Trustee Dianne Brown offered motions for each name; voice votes followed both motions.

A school system spokeswoman said after the meeting that trustees Robert Reid, Lloyd Marie Johnson, Brown and Debra Ambroise voted in favor of changing Dowling Elementary to Port Acres Elementary. Brandon Bartie, Donald Frank, and Kenneth Loftin voted no, she said.

Only Bartie voted no on the name change for Lee Elementary.

The vote came without debate or public discussion at the meeting, although the board has entertained the public’s wishes about school names on the school system’s website and held a public hearing during which names were suggested in September.

Superintendent Mark Porterie said a majority of the trustees believed “a neutral name” would be the best course for the school system, which is composed mostly of black and Hispanic students.

“In the environment in which we are now, harmony is what we need,” Porterie said. Porterie said the two names chosen were among those suggested to the board.

The decision seemed to surprise some members of the public who attended the meeting.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Jacori Narcisse, a 2006 Memorial High graduate and a member of the NAACP. He said he would have preferred that the board name the schools for A.Z. McElroy, a former Abraham Lincoln High School administrator and coach and the first black Port Arthur resident elected to the school board, and for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Disappointed, too, was Austin McElroy, one of A.Z. McElroy’s four sons, who had hoped that a school would be named in honor of his father, who served the school system for most of three decades. The younger McElroy, a 1975 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, drove to the board meeting from his work in Baytown.

“I had no expectations, but I hoped against hope,” he said, that his father’s name would be honored. “I was stunned about the way they did it. I thought my dad qualified.”