Atlanta school leaders hope new names for struggling schools will help remake them into places students are proud to attend.
That’s the theory behind recent decisions to name two Atlanta schools, one for former President Barack and former First Lady Michelle Obama and another for Rep. John Lewis.
D.H. Stanton Elementary School is now Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary. The new John Lewis Invictus Academy, a middle school, will open this fall as the eventual replacement for Harper-Archer Middle School.
In approving the names, the school board waived a policy that bars naming schools for people until they have been dead for five years.
It was time for a fresh start at D.H. Stanton, said principal Robin Christian.
“At one point, it was not a place to be proud to work. It was not a place where people could be proud to send their kids,” she said.
D.H. Stanton received an F from the Georgia Department of Education for the past five years. The school’s former principal was one of dozens of Atlanta educators indicted on charges of cheating on state tests, but died before facing trial. And the school is sometimes confused with another Atlanta elementary school, F.L. Stanton.
Christian said renaming D.H. Stanton will help highlight changes at the school, including a new early childhood center, new staff members and a new culture of high expectations.
“I think it’s important that we begin to attract many of the new families that are moving to the community” and help make the school more diverse, benefiting students, Christian said.
D.H. Stanton staff suggested naming the school for the Obamas because they represent “being a voice for the voiceless,” Christian said.
The committee that suggested naming Atlanta’s new middle school for John Lewis also picked a name they thought would help bring change. The school will eventually replace Harper-Archer Middle School, which has received an F from the state for four of the past five years. Nearly half of students zoned to attend Harper-Archer choose to attend other schools.
Starting this fall, Harper-Archer will be closed down, one grade at a time. Students who had been zoned to attend Harper-Archer will instead attend John Lewis Invictus Academy, starting with a new class of sixth graders. The new school will be located on the campus of what is now BEST Academy.
“We’re starting a new culture,” for students, board member Steven Lee said. “And we’re doing it one grade at a time.”
The new school honors Lewis, who represents most of Atlanta, and refers to the poem that celebrates an unconquered spirit, the one that ends, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
In a written statement, Lewis said he hoped students at his namesake school would be taught the history of the civil rights movement and use that knowledge to help make the world a better place.
“I am deeply moved that Atlanta Public Schools would chose to name one of its buildings after me. Education was my salvation. It was the road I traveled that led me out of the cotton fields of Alabama all the way to the halls of Congress,” he said.