By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009
President Obama's name would grace a new Prince George's County elementary school a few miles from the White House under a proposal scheduled for a vote tonight, barely five months after he took office.
If the Prince George's Board of Education approves the plan, Barack Obama Elementary School would be the first in the Washington region named after the president. The school is under construction outside the Capital Beltway in Upper Marlboro and is slated for completion by year's end.
The school would not be the first in the country named after Obama. The Hempstead Union Free School District in New York voted to rename Ludlum Elementary School for him in November shortly after his victory in the presidential election. Since then, several other school boards nationwide have taken steps to name new schools or rename old ones after the president. (The honors haven't been confined to the United States: Antigua has plans to name its largest mountain and a national park after him.)
Some proposals have been shot down. In Colorado, a student group's campaign to rename Boulder High School for Obama crumbled under fierce criticism of the idea of renaming one of the state's oldest schools. Others questioned whether it is right to name a school after a president in office less than a year.
It isn't unprecedented to name a school after a sitting president. In 2003, George W. Bush Elementary School opened in Stockton, Calif., during Bush's first presidential term. In 1970, a new school in Hiawatha, Iowa, was named Richard M. Nixon Elementary. The school is still called Nixon Elementary 35 years after the 37th president resigned in the Watergate scandal.
Prince George's, a Democratic stronghold, voted overwhelmingly for Obama in November. The nation's first African American president is often held up to students in the majority-black county as a success story. Some members of the county school board said naming a school for him would inspire students.
"He comes from the same cloth that many of our kids come from: single-family home, public assistance, being raised by grandparents," board member Pat Fletcher (District 3) said. "That's something concrete that kids can identify with."
Board member Linda Thornton Thomas (District 4) said she would prefer the school to be named after a local figure.
"It's a nice idea to offer it to the president, but I think we should have come up with some wonderful leaders here in Prince George's County," Thomas said.
Many Prince George's schools are named after noteworthy African Americans. In addition to Martin Luther King Jr. Middle and Frederick Douglass High, there are Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High, named after a prominent physician; Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary, after a jurist; and Charles Herbert Flowers High, after a still-living Tuskegee airman, among others.
Former school board member Judy Mickens-Murray, who describes herself as a "100 percent" Obama supporter, said that it is too soon to name a school after him.
"Let him earn the legacy," Mickens-Murray said. "What's the rush? Maybe in four years I will see the significance and the contributions that he has made to Prince George's. What would happen if, after four years, God forbid, he has failed policies and that's hanging over us? It sounds good, but I think it's just too soon."
Board Chairman Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large) said Obama had already sealed his legacy. "He's still going to be the first African American elected president," she said, "and I think that's a huge accomplishment."