An Orange County school board settled a monthslong conversation about historic markers of white supremacy this week with two new names for local schools.
The board voted 6-1 Monday to change the name of Cameron Park Elementary School to River Park Elementary, and to change the name of C.W. Stanford Middle School to Orange Middle School.
Chair Hillary MacKenzie said its members value public input and want to act “on the will of the people in our district as best we can evaluate.” Orange Middle was not her first choice, MacKenzie said.
“The feedback we received from the public in this case was resounding that, one, the community supports renaming these schools, and two, that folks in this district generally seem to value the policy we have around not naming our facilities after people,” she said.
The selected names were the top picks in public comments submitted in June, with River Park getting 115 responses and Orange Middle getting over 60 responses.
The work to rename the schools reflects the district’s equity policy, which requires the board to re-examine building names to ensure they don’t reflect biased policies, programs and practices, or meet the needs of all students for a barrier-free environment to their success, Superintendent Monique Felder said.
Board member Will Atherton, who voted against the changes Monday, also voted in February, along with board member Bonnie Hauser, to oppose changing Stanford Middle School’s name.
Stanford is not being renamed because of what the man did, but because of the time during which he served, Hauser said Monday in an attempt to clarify “misinformation.”
Stanford was not a slaveowner, but a local farmer and school board member, she said. The board had to follow state policies and laws that delayed desegregation and created unequal funding between Black and white schools, she added.
“Once wartime restraints were lifted (after World War II), Mr. Stanford personally appointed black and white citizens to a committee to plan facilities,” Hauser said. “That committee in fact resulted in the building of Efland-Cheeks Elementary, Cedar Grove Elementary and the rebuilding of Central High School immediately after it burned down.”
Public process, future honors
The schools will officially change their names Aug. 15, and also could consider new colors and mascots.
Board member Sarah Smylie asked district staff to find the most cost-effective ways to make the changes. The district has estimated the cost at roughly $200,000, to purchase new athletic uniforms and equipment, band and cheerleader uniforms, scoreboards and new mascot decals for schools walls, floors and other spots on campus.
Stanford Middle — now Orange Middle — is located beside Orange High School.
The runners-up were Arbor Park Elementary, with roughly a dozen public responses, and Caleb Moore Middle, which got over 40 responses supporting the retired Stanford band teacher.
The board also considered Kizzmekia Corbett Middle, recognizing the Orange County native and immunologist who helped develop the Moderna vaccine. That suggestion, which would have broken with district policy against naming schools for people, got roughly a dozen supporters.
The board could discuss ideas in the coming months for recognizing Corbett and Moore, MacKenzie said.
Hauser mentioned a scholarship in Corbett’s name and a teaching excellence award in Moore’s name. Moore could be the first recipient of the award named in his honor, she said.
Removing biased policies, practices
The board voted in February to rename both schools after their namesakes were linked to slavery and racist institutions.
Cameron Park is named for an Orange County slaveowner. Stanford Middle is named for Charles W. Stanford Sr., who was an Orange County school board member and chairman during segregation.
The decision to change Stanford’s name, based on his association with a school board that upheld separate but unequal education for Black students, is still a frustrating decision for Stanford’s family and some community members.
This spring, the district appointed an 18-member committee of parents, staff, community members and students to gather new names. The committee submitted its recommendations to the school board in May, after dropping an early front-runner, which would have named one school for the local Occaneechi tribe. That name was withdrawn because of historic ties to Native American slavery.