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Regulation may stall tribute to principal


Admirers of the late Principal Walter S. Mills are trying to have Parole Elementary School renamed for him before it reopens to students next month.

A technicality may stand in the way of their tribute, however.

"It is a policy that someone has to be dead for three years before a school facility can be named after them," said Jane Doyle, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County public school system.

Friends and former colleagues say they are hoping the school board will make an exception for Mr. Mills, who died July 18 of cardiac arrest at the age of 85.

"Principals come and go, but he stayed in one community for 46 years and gave over half his life to making sure that the children there got off to a good start," said Howard Hall, a former assistant superintendent and longtime friend of Mr. Mills. "He was a grand gentlemen."

Mr. Hall brought up the idea of renaming the school while delivering the eulogy at Mr. Mills' funeral Saturday.

From 1932 to 1952, Mr. Mills was principal of Parole Elementary, supervising the move from Hicks Avenue to its location off Chinquapin Road and overseeing construction of several additions, including the kindergarten rooms.

But Mr. Mills' lasting legacy came in 1939, when he decided to sue the Anne Arundel County Board of Education -- a suit that won equal pay for black teachers and principals. At the time, white school principals were earning $750 more annually than black principals. He was represented in the historic suit by Thurgood Marshall, who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

"I can't imagine anyone being opposed to the idea of naming the school for Mr. Mills," said Carl O. Snowden, the Annapolis alderman from Ward 4 and a civil rights activist.

"Mr. Mills should be honored not only for his work at Parole, but his fight for parity in salaries and his long service on the board of trustees of Anne Arundel Community College," he said. "Policies under certain circumstances can be changed."

This isn't the first time Mr. Mills' admirers have hit a stumbling block while trying to honor him.

Charles D. Bowers, Parole's principal, said he first met Mr. Mills and his wife while still a young teacher, but got to know the couple better when their granddaughter attended Parole. Several years ago, he started lobbying to change the school's name to Walter S. Mills Elementary.

"But then I was told a school could not be named after someone who is living," said Mr. Bowers. "I thought it was a shame you have to die before you can be recognized for a lifetime of achievement in education in this county."

Mr. Bowers said he spoke to a school board member and was told "not to give up. But then I didn't hear anything more about it."

In March, Mr. Bowers said he again tried to get the school renamed by writing to interim schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

"In the letter I let her know I had talked to the community, and staff, and everyone was in agreement -- that we just thought this would be the right thing to do," he said. "Again, I didn't hear anything. Within the past week, right before he died, I contacted the superintendent's office again, and now he has passed away."

Dr. Parham finally answered in a letter July 20, two days after Mr. Mills' death. She advised Mr. Bowers to seek an exception to board policy.

"It should be much easier for this change to go through than it has been," Mr. Bowers said. "This school, he put so much into it, trying to make a difference for so many people. Kids in the community knew him and loved him, and he knew them and loved them back.

"What a wonderful tribute this would be to such a great man. It's not over. We'll be down at the board asking for that exception."

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