My old alma mater, the Highland Park ISD, faces a unique problem: what to name a new elementary school? That action might seem simple enough, but today naming or renaming a school faces demonstrations, angry parents and professional victims. First, a quick background: The HPISD encompasses the town of Highland Park, the adjoining University Park (so named because it is home to SMU), a few blocks outside those boundaries, and is surrounded by Dallas. It is simply one of 1,035 school districts in Texas and follows the same rules and regulations as the others. But in some ways it is independent and different. For example, they are the Scots, so the high school band includes bagpipers. No one moves out of the district, and they marry other Scots. My mother attended Hi Park and now my family is into the fourth or fifth generation of HP students. I spent 12 years in Hi Park schools, mostly in the sixth grade, but finally graduated summa cum barely. Later I left town because of a lynch mob, but that’s another story.
The school district’s boundaries can’t grow, so why do they need a fifth elementary school? It seems a lot more parents want their children to be Scots. District enrollment is currently 6,840, but since 1981, the student population has grown by 3,000. This is a 73 percent increase in 25 years, and equates to more than 1,000 new students every 10 years. Enrollment is expected to continue to grow, so the junior high (“middle school” sounds second-rate), and high school are being expanded. This means higher taxes, and already, because of our state’s Robin Hood share-the-wealth program, district residents are sending 66 percent of their school taxes to Austin to be distributed around the state. As a result of the expansions, taxes are projected to increase by approximately $910 per year based on a home with a market value of $1 million.
The school board says, “This nomination process is an exciting opportunity for members of our community to have a say in suggesting names that should be considered.” Tell that to the Houston ISD. In this time of political correctness, after raucous meetings, Houston’s school board voted to rename seven schools named for Confederates: Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, John Reagan, Richard Dowling, Sidney Lanier and Jefferson Davis.
Reagan led charges and won battles. Uh, no, actually Reagan was postmaster general of the Confederacy. Lanier was a noted poet and composer and, oddly enough, was a school teacher. Fourteen schools, a college, other structures and two lakes are named for him. Lanier’s crime is that, as a young man during the Civil War, he served aboard a British blockade runner and was captured by a Union warship, thrown in prison where he contacted tuberculosis, and never recovered. I guess that’s enough to erase his name from a school. Douglas Brinkley, an author and presidential scholar, professor of history at Rice University, says of such history-erasing movements, “They are allowed a 21st-century moment.” The change of Houston’s school names wasn’t cheap: It was estimated to cost $2 million. Meanwhile, HISD has deep budget problems, and the school board is so dysfunctional that Gov. Greg Abbott said it is a “disaster” and called for the state to kick out the board members and take over the school district.
Back at Hi Park things remain different and the same: duty, money, high school football, God and the Republican Party. Their pride and joy are the schools. After her children left, my mother taught the first grade at Armstrong for 25 years, and was pretty tough, reflecting the district’s code. She had three sons, all of whom joined the Marine Corps seeking a softer life. Mom told us about the time a student told her, “Mommy found out about Daddy’s girlfriend and threw an ashtray at him and…” Mom interjected: “Stop!” Then there was the time a mother asked Mom, “Suzy says if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll go up the stairs and jump off the balcony. What should I do?” Mom replied: “Tell her to jump.”
Years ago I wrote about Hi Park Hi, noting that in 1960 the top two graduates at West Point and Annapolis were graduates of HPHS. In more recent times the highest paid player in both Major League Baseball and the NFL were former Scots. Speaking of football, one year both Doak Walker and Bobby Lane played in the same backfield. In the last three years, the Scots have won state 5A championships in football. (So did the tennis team. The girls soccer team just won the state championship as well.) On one of those years the quarterback was the grandson of Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. I was always suspicious that most of the Scots’ starting lineup also played on Sundays. This love of football goes way back. Before stadium lights, fathers of the players would park their cars around the practice field with the car lights on so their sons could keep practicing after dark. Other coaches objected, but nothing came of it.
As for the new naming, they already have schools named for a real estate developer and educators. It can’t be Washington, Madison or Jefferson. They were slave owners. Not Monroe, either. He wrote the Monroe Doctrine. John Bolton, our National Security Adviser, recently said, “The Monroe Document is alive and well. It’s OUR hemisphere.” That might not go down too well with some Latin American countries. Lincoln? He presided over one half of the bloodiest war in our history. Not Nixon. The district is celebrating its 100th anniversary, so maybe Century. Name the school Watson. It’s elementary. I made my own recommendation to a school district that has turned out a governor, an astronaut, a Heisman Trophy winner, plus a recipient of the Nobel Prize, Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer — and they still wouldn’t name the school after me.
Ashby is taught at email@example.com