Preserve the names – Obama, Shirley, and Wells!

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Dr. Aaron Shirley (1933-2014) & Dr. Ollye Shirley (1934-2016)

An open letter to the JPS Board of Trustees and Administration

Ladies and gentlemen:

In the latter days of the public discussions on the administration’s optimization plan, several board members broached the subject of school names in light of the fact that at least three of the schools on the list for closure had been recently renamed to honor noted Black personalities. Those schools were Barack Obama Elementary School, Aaron and Ollye Shirley Elementary School, and Ida B. Wells Elementary School.

Very specifically, several board members expressed the idea that a way needs to be found to preserve the names of those icons rather than have the efforts of the students, school personnel, and community persons simply wiped from the slate and the memories of them dimmed because the schools were closed. Another board member expressed the idea that in South Jackson the merging of Wingfield and Forest Hill should result in the creation of a name that does not elevate one of the schools, while denigrating the other.

As a result of those discussions, the writer offers the following proposal that could resolve both situations and lead us into a new era of recognition of the icons for whom the closed schools had been named. (1) Name the merged school of Northwest Jackson Middle School and Obama Elementary School, the BARACK OBAMA MIDDLE AND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. (2) Name the merged school of Bailey APAC Middle School and Ida B Wells Elementary School, the BAILEY – WELLS APAC ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL. (3) Name the merged Forest Hill High School and Wingfield High School, the AARON AND OLLYE SHIRLEY HIGH SCHOOL.

If this strategy is followed, it would be logical and kill three birds with one stone. In the case of the Obama Middle and Elementary school, nothing would be lost because presently, Northwest is merely a directional or regional name, not an individual’s name that would be lost. At the same time, it would lend more deserved prominence to both international baccalaureate programs, the elementary and middle school, and preserve the name of Barack Obama.

In the case of the Bailey-Wells APAC Elementary and Middle School, the two programs, which are apparently a part of the same effort, would be linked in their names without losing either of the subjects. It would also enhance the elementary part of the program.

In the case of the merged high schools, by naming it the Aaron and Ollye Shirley High School, the name Shirley would be preserved. Forest Hill would have acquired the name of two individual icons rather than merely maintaining the name of a neighborhood. Furthermore, the school would not be identified with either the Forest Hill or Wingfield alumni or students.

We realize that this proposal may not sit well with 100% of the community; we realize that being merely a citizen, long-term resident of the city, and a newspaper writer gives the writer no special prominence for this proposal being considered. He is presenting it to the JPS administration and board of trustees for their serious consideration because it does resolve some questions going forward.

He has tried to be as clear and precise as possible in the proposal. He welcomes any communication on the matter as it is placed before the group – the administration and the board of trustees – that has the authority to make it happen.

 Respectfully submitted,

 Ivory Phillips

 January 4, 2024

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Preserve the names – Obama, Shirley, and Wells!

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 8, 2024