Perhaps aided by the absence of trustee Jolanda Jones, who was attending her son's college graduation out of state, the Houston ISD board of education moved things along Thursday night, refraining from too much more rhetoric before voting to approve all the proposed name changes at seven district schools.
Board President Manuel Rodriguez moved the public comment and votes on the renaming of the schools to the top of the order. This allowed more than 30 people, including elected officials, to avoid a long wait before addressing the board about the renaming of schools that carried the names of people associated with the Confederacy.
The largest group came from the Dowling Middle School community, most of whom, decked out in white T-shirts with red lettering, asked that the school be named after educator and former Madison High School teacher Carrie McAfee instead of Houston civic leader Audrey Lawson. Others spoke in support of Lawson. While applauding Lawson, the McAfee supporters said she had closer historic ties to their Hiram Clarke neighborhood. Several said the makeup of the committee at Dowling did not follow the district's own requirements.
After the public comment, trustee Wanda Adams read a letter from the Reverend William Lawson, who said it was a great compliment to his family that a school would be named after his late wife. "But when I learned that this proposal was in direct opposition of the desires of the neighborhood of the school, I withdrew her name. People who loved and supported Audrey pushed on anyway." He wrote that his family would be supportive of whatever the result was.
Board member Anna Eastman abstained on every school name vote, joined occasionally by Michael Lunceford and once by Rhonda Skillern-Jones. On Wednesday attorney Daniel Goforth sent a letter to board attorney David Thompson saying that he represented a group of parents who would take legal action if trustees voted to approve all the name changes. The group contends HISD violated its own policies in how it conducted the renaming process and that by doing this, it will cost the district millions of dollars it does not have.
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The new names are:
Margaret Long Wisdom High School (formerly Lee High School)
Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School (formerly Johnston Middle School)
Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence (formerly Jackson Middle School)
Heights High School (formerly Reagan High School)
Audrey H. Lawson Middle School (formerly Dowling Middle School)
Bob Lanier Middle School (formerly Sidney Lanier Middle School)
Northside High School (formerly Davis High School)
More than one board member thanked the staff for their work – in sharp contrast to the agenda meeting earlier this week when several board members said they weren't getting the proper amount of respect from the board and took administration members to task. Skillern-Jones thanked staff for putting up with her “temper tantrums” and said this has been a long year with a lot of things going on.
Interim Superintendent Kenneth Huewitt said they would reopen the vendor process for after-school and in-school vendor programs sometime in June. On Tuesday Eastman had raised objections to the limited list that the administration came up with after very few companies applied for approval.