Jasper Elementary School: Name change reflects public sentiment

Greg Schnarr read a prepared statement to the Jasper School Board Tuesday night at a special meeting held to reconsider the naming of the new elementary school.

With the backlash that occurred on social media and through personal messages, the Greater Jasper Consolidated School board unanimously decided to rename the school Jasper Elementary School.

The board met in a special meeting held at the Jasper High School community room with about 75 members of the community in attendance, Tuesday evening.

Board president Bernie Vogler opened the meeting asking everyone to be respectful while acknowledging that he would allow voices on the subject to be heard after the board made their thoughts and feelings known. Afterward, each member of the board gave brief statements regarding their earlier decision to name the school after George R. and Margaret Wilson.

We covered their significant impact on the educational system in the city, county and state in this article.

New elementary school name honors Wilson siblings but causes a disconnect with constituents

Board member Tim Demotte stated he realized the board might have acted too quickly in deciding on the name after the brief presentation made by two local historians, Junie Himsel and Joe Rohleder.

“Their impact on the community was significant,” he said. “I appreciate the history of the Wilsons. But it didn’t occur to me at the time to consider what my son and daughter would come home wearing. I don’t want my little girl to come home with a Wilson Wildcat shirt on. That doesn’t mean anything to her.”

Demotte stated the board could find a compromise. Addressing the public backlash, he added that the board hadn’t etched the name on the building yet. “We haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet,” Demotte said.

Board member Ken Schnaus said he wasn’t worried about the name as there were plenty of schools named after important figures. He listed local schools like Nancy Hanks Elementary in Santa Claus and David Turnham in Dale as well as the Speedway, Indiana schools where his sons teach.

“We already have a precedence of naming our buildings after influential people,” he said. “We have named three of our buildings or facilities after very successful coaches. We have Cabby O’Neil Gym, Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium, Ted Yarbrough Tennis Complex and Joe Rohleder Field. None of these have Jasper in the name.”

He explained that the impact the Wilsons had on local education, as well as state practices, deserves recognition.

“Teachers should get the same recognition as coaches in my opinion,” he said.

“The Wilsons were both teachers who were very important in forming our public education system as we know it today,” he said. “The reaction we have gotten now that we want to honor teachers instead of coaches—the people who help all our kids learn to be successful adults, not just a small group of kids who happen to be athletic—is not just surprising but also a little bit disappointing.”

“Teachers should get the same recognition as coaches in my opinion,” he said.

He pointed out that as the city grows, down the road they may have to add another elementary school. “We just going to call it Number Two,” he said. “You kinda box yourself in if that happens.”

Schnaus stated that in the end, he represents the taxpayers in the city and he has heard the outcry against the name, but he also acknowledged those silently supporting the name. He stated that as individuals have learned about the Wilsons’ contributions to education, they have changed their minds.

“I am surprised at the reaction to the name,” he said. “Considering we are spending over $30 million of your tax money and I have heard no one say anything about that amount of money. That surprises me that this is more important than that tax money.”

Board member Greg Eckerle echoed Schnaus’ comments regarding schools being named after presidents, civic leaders and war heroes. “In the Wilson name we would have something unique,” he said. “It is focused solely on local educators, and as a brother and sister it reflects the family tradition we hold so dear locally.”

He added that he knew many people would not know about the siblings but he felt this would give historians an opportunity to inform people about their historic contributions.

“Ironically, all the conversation in the past week has given a better understanding to many people of the Wilsons’ contributions,” Eckerle said. “That is a good thing.”

Board member Arlet Jackle said she was also educated about the Wilsons’ impact and felt it was appropriate to name the school after them.

“I am deeply saddened by the negativity from our community members, our parents and our staff,” she said.

“I felt that it was important to recognize them (the Wilsons) for their contribution to our area and never in my wildest dreams thought this would be negative,” she said. “I never thought that this would be something we had to open to the public once again and discuss. I firmly believe I made the right decision that night.”

However, she was surprised by the vehement responses their decision had garnered from the public. She described a 20-minute voicemail left on her home answering machine from someone who called at 3 a.m. and never left their name. She added that her husband and other family members have been bombarded with questions and comments when they have been seen in town over the past week.

“I am deeply saddened by the negativity from our community members, our parents and our staff,” she said.

She stated that the public needs to be aware their children are watching and learning from their actions. “We teach kindness,” she said. “Please teach kindness.”

Vogler, with a nod to social media, joked that he didn’t know what Twitter was until this past week and that his daughter was surprised to learn he had a cellphone.

He acknowledged that he could have taken action to slow the decision. “I thought, ‘you know we really ought to table this for a month,’ but I didn’t speak up,” he said about the moment they made the decision. “I should have tabled it because it is an important decision.”

He also said he was saddened by the nasty comments and calls he received, but he was willing to listen to the public.

Jasper resident Greg Schnarr made a statement to the board in which he asked them to consider changing the name. He explained that with all the public input the school board sought in coming to the decision to build the new elementary school, they could have taken the same approach in deciding on the name.

“The ship has not sailed,” he said. “We have the opportunity to listen to those you represent. The shovel has not turned the first bit of dirt. We have an opportunity to take the input of those you represent.”

After a few other individuals in attendance at the meeting made statements requesting the name be changed to Jasper Elementary School and no one came forward in support of the Wilson Elementary name, the board closed comments.

Superintendent Dr. Tracy Lorey then recommended the board seek a win-win solution and suggested the media center at the new school be named after the Wilsons and an interactive display be added to honor them and teach others about their significant impact in education.

Although the board members did not necessarily agree with some of the issues the public had brought forward with the original name, they acquiesced that they represented their constituents in the Greater Jasper Consolidated School district and unanimously approved changing the name to Jasper Elementary School and naming the media center after George R. and Margaret Wilson.

One Response to Jasper Elementary School: Name change reflects public sentiment

  1. Rogor Kaputnik December 8, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    How refreshing. A government entity listening to its constituents…for a change.

    I don’t live in Jasper so I don’t care what they name the elementary school, but I do feel that the people who pay the taxes deserved to be heard. Kudos to the GJCS board for their actions.