The Winfield Elementary School PTA has launched an effort to rename the school after Raymond Mathias, Winfield's longtime principal who was killed last month in a car accident.
Organizers of a petition drive have collected signatures from more than 1,000 people in the Winfield community who support changing the school's name to J. Raymond Mathias Elementary.
"He basically dedicated his career to Winfield, and we just thought it would be a fitting memorial to the man," said Lesley Long, a PTA member who presented the petition to the Carroll County school board last week.
Carroll school officials said they were unable to recall another attempt by residents to rename a county school.
"It's certainly a very unusual request, and it's a very difficult request," said Vernon Smith, the county's director of school support services.
"A lot of people know and love the [Mathias] family and cared very much for Mr. Mathias," he said. "I don't know whether or not the Board of Education wants to begin the process of changing school names because citizens take up a petition, especially around an emotional issue like this."
The board could direct the superintendent's staff to address the renaming issue or not take action, county school officials said.
"I understand why the community wants to [rename Winfield] but ultimately the board is responsible for naming schools," said Superintendent Brian Lockard. "What a lot of schools have done is look at naming a media center after an individual."
The last successful effort in Carroll to change a name occurred in 1993, when the Carroll County Center for Exceptional Children became Carroll Springs School, Smith said. The change was proposed by the center's school improvement team.
"They felt it was an inappropriate label and asked the superintendent to open up for public participation the renaming of the school," he said.
Smith said board members haven't been receptive to naming new schools after individuals in recent years.
He pointed out that William Winchester, Elmer Wolfe, Robert Moton and Charles Carroll elementary schools and Francis Scott Key High School were named decades ago.
According to the system's policy on naming new schools, the public is invited to suggest names in writing, which are reviewed by a construction planning committee. The panel is made up of administrators, teachers and parents.
The committee then recommends three names to the superintendent, who recommends a name to the board.
The policy states that if a school is to be named after a person, the individual must have made a significant contribution to education or society in general at the local, state or national level. The individual also must demonstrate certain attributes, including effective citizenship, community service and excellent character and general reputation.
Long said parents volunteering at the school raised the idea of renaming Winfield only days after Mathias' fatal accident May 11.
"Mr. Mathias normally took the kids out to recess after lunch, and we were standing there supervising the children and talking about the accident," Long recalled.
"We wondered what could we do to memorialize his commitment to the school and the things he did for the school."
Long said parents did not have to work hard to collect the signatures.
"We did not go stomping around trying to solicit names," Long said. "For a small community, I thought we got pretty good support."
School board members were divided on the renaming issue.
"I'm not in favor of naming schools after individuals, living or dead, because you always leave somebody out," said board member Joseph D. Mish.
He said Winfield parents might want to consider naming a conference room or athletic field after Mathias.
Board member Carolyn Scott saids she strongly supports the idea of naming public buildings after individuals.
"It's a way to pass on our history or heritage," said Scott. "If that's what the community wants, that's what I'll abide by."
Pub Date: 6/16/98