THERE'S HONEST, caring emotion in the petition drive by some parents to rename Winfield Elementary School for longtime principal Raymond Mathias, who died in an auto accident last month.
Mr. Mathias was well-respected for his 19 years at Winfield; his death was widely mourned. He should be honored with a suitable memorial. But naming a new school for a person is a hazardous precedent, as is renaming an established school.
Mr. Mathias' memory is fresh in our minds as a symbol of school leadership and personal dedication. But what of future educators with similar contributions, a teacher killed in another accident? What of long-serving superintendents and school board members? The claim to rename would multiply, leaving school officials with an impossible decision of who is most deserving and who is not.
Most new schools are not named for individuals. They're named for places, a common identification for all children and adults using that school building. That is a sensible, if uninspired, choice that provokes little debate, although sometimes some curious names, such as Baltimore County's Fifth District Elementary and Harford's Youths Benefit Elementary.
It was common in past times to name public schools for persons, as is obvious in the lists of older schools. Some Maryland schools have been named for individuals still active in education.
But all too soon the reason and the individual are forgotten, the memorial being short-lived while the name endures. Or there is reconsideration of the person and the validity of his or her eponym.
There's little need to change established school names but great need to avoid naming schools for people in the future.
School officials have suggested naming a library or athletic field for Mr. Mathias, or placing a memorial plaque at Winfield.
These are appropriate proposals that should be weighed by community members to celebrate the life of a man who gave so much to their school and to their children.
Pub date: 6/19/98