Naming debate surrounds Raleigh high school

Posted June 29, 2010 6:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2010 7:31 p.m. EDT

— Wake County's school board chairman said Tuesday there's been no formal move to take a vote on changing the name of William G. Enloe High School in Raleigh, despite mounting protest and growing concerns.

"I think it is something that has been blown out of proportion, as to the possibility of changing," Chairman Ron Margiotta said. "I just don't see it happening."

At a school board committee meeting on June 22, Timothy Tyson, a Duke University research scholar, and Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, spoke about segregation, pointing to Enloe, a former Raleigh mayor, as someone who was in favor of segregation.

As a result, school board members say they are looking at how schools are named.

"I think we're doing some research on schools to see if they're named after some bad people," Margiotta said.

But Enloe High School students and alumni, fearful the board might change the school's name, have started an online campaign to keep the name.

More than 800 people opposed to a name change have joined a group on Facebook

"It's a nationally ranked school," Enloe student Jared Dmiszewicki said. "People recognize us. They know it's a great school. Changing its name would give it a whole new meaning."

Critics of the Wake County Board of Education, such as the NAACP, say the move to look at schools' names is an effort to distract the public from a controversial board decision to move away from a decade-long student assignment policy that buses students to achieve socio-economic diversity.

The board plans to implement a new assignment policy that places students in schools closer to their homes in an effort to boost student achievement.

The new assignment plan is more than a year away from implementation, but opponents, including the NAACP, believe it will re-segregate schools, create pockets of poverty in the community and lead to high teacher turnover.

NAACP members say they are not advocating a name change.

"I think it is one of their strategic plans they put in place to divide the community, take us off the main issue, which is we do not want our schools re-segregated," said Portia Rochelle, president of the Wake County chapter of the state NAACP. "We did not ask for Enloe High School to be renamed."

Barber said the Enloe segregation issue that Tyson mentioned was meant to put historical context to school segregation in Wake County, not to advocate changing the school's name.

"We're trying to teach people there's a history here," Barber said. "If you understand the history, you want to keep socioeconomic diversity."

Margiotta said that by bringing up the diversity debate, others are creating a distraction from the board's primary focus, which is improving academic achievement.