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Editorial: Local School, Local Namesake, Local Pride

When the Board of Education released its four potential names for the new middle school in Clarksburg the list was… uninspiring to locals. While all four of the men on the list are deserving of such an accolade, the names did nothing to inspire the local community to embrace the new school as their own.

A school is nothing without its community. The link between school and community is vital. And the responsibility of naming a new school in an emerging community is one that requires forethought, vision, and an unwavering sense of community.

It is the community that creates the school. The principals and teachers at local schools become folk heroes in the community. Everybody remembers the principal at their middle school for many reasons, either because they were a towering figure of authority or because they were a helpful and guiding voice through those difficult years from small child to teenager. The school represents the community, and the community represents the school.

The Board of Ed put forth four possible names for the new middle school; former members of the Board of Ed Dr. Alan Cheung, Mr. James H. Daugherty, and former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Vance, and Dr. Michael Doran, the late principal at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville.

While the four names that the Board of Education submitted for nomination are all excellent suggestions, none have the same link to the community as the nomination from the 15-member community Naming Committee. The name they are championing as their top pick, Hallie Wells Middle School, speaks to the history of the community and continues to inspire.

After the death of her husband, and having no children of her own, Hallie Wells, donated 290 acres of farmland to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1981 with the intent that the land be used “as open space, for parkland, and/or recreation” in an act of unselfish generosity and community heroism. At the time the land was worth about $1 million. Consider what that land might be worth today — 35 years later.

That parkland is now Ovid Hazen Wells Recreation Park, named for Hallie Wells husband, which is home to the baseball and soccer fields where children from Clarksburg, Damascus, and all over the UpCounty area play and families gather. The park is also home to the Red Wiggler Community Farm, a sustainable farm where people with and without developmental disabilities come together to work, learn and grow healthy food. Clearly, Hallie Wells’ actions have had a profound and positive impact on the Clarksburg community.

Ultimately, the responsibility for naming the new school lies with the members of the Board of Education. The Germantown Pulse hopes that the Board of Ed will follow its own lead when selecting the name for the school. When the Board considered names for the new elementary school in Clarksburg last year — a school which will feed the new middle school — it listened to the desires of the community and named the school Wilson Wims Elementary School.

In 2009, as the Board was voting to name William B. Gibbs Elementary School in the Clarksburg area — a name which the local naming committee did not support — Board member Patricia O’Neill told the Gazette newspaper, “Schools should have names of local community heroes. It's incumbent upon us to give students a sense of history.” At the time, the community name committee wanted to name that school after local geography in an effort to connect the school to the community.

It is the hope of the Germantown Pulse that the Board of Education will exercise its authority to ensure that the school, as Board member Christopher S. Barclay said in 2009, “will have a name that inspires.”

By supporting the local community’s desire to name the new school for Hallie Wells, the Germantown Pulse in no way wishes to discount the tremendous impact that other nominees have had on Montgomery County. However, a local school should have a direct connection to the local community.

To ask for the community’s input, and then to dismiss their strong wishes would be putting on a dog and pony show and paying lip service to those who inhabit the community which will create the new school. MCPS and the Board may build the building that houses the new school, but it will be the community that creates the new school.

If the Board were to name this school after Hallie Wells, it would be just the second time a non-elementary school would bear the name of a woman. Yes, of the 38 middle schools and 25 high schools, only one other is named for a woman. The only other is Rosa M. Parks Middle School in Olney. For a county which has a majority of the population made up of females (51.8 percent based on 2014 census figures), it is time for MCPS to honored more than one woman beyond the elementary level.

Ovid Hazen Wells Park sits at the northwestern end of Skylark Drive and the new middle school sits about one mile southeast on the other end of Skylark Drive. It would be very nice to see a Clarksburg community served by two public institutions named for a couple whose generosity embodied forethought, vision, and an unwavering sense of community.

The Germantown Pulse urges all residents of Clarksburg and surrounding UpCounty locations to support the local naming committee by signing the petition to name the new middle school after Hallie Wells. So often, residents of the UpCounty gripe that the powers that be in Rockville do not pay attention to UpCounty communities. Here is an opportunity to make the desires of one UpCounty community heard in Rockville.

As a local news source, the Germantown Pulse urges the Board of Education to seriously consider listening to desire of the local naming committee and local residents in selecting the name the new middle school. Indeed, schools should have names of local community heroes. Hallie Wells was a local community hero.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly identified former MCPS Supertintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Vance as a former member of the Board of Education.

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