Family welcomes school's new name
Fourth Street Elementary redubbed for longtime educator Howard B. Stroud
When Charles Stroud drove down Fourth Street on Tuesday, he saw his brother's name hanging above the entrance to the school there for the first time. The large purple banner read, "Welcome to Howard B. Stroud Elementary School."
"It's a tremendous honor," Charles Stroud said. "I just wish he could be here to see it."
The Clarke County Board of Education unanimously voted in June to rename Fourth Street Elementary after the late Howard B. Stroud, a longtime educator and community leader in Athens. Stroud died in March at age 77.
Less than a week before classes begin, remnants of the old name are everywhere in the office and on the walls where for 15 years the school was known as Fourth Street Elementary.
Third-year Principal Toni Pickett said Tuesday it's a change she's still getting used to, but one that she's proud of.
She sometimes still answers the phone by saying "Fourth Street" she said, and the school is awaiting new signs, T-shirts, stationery, pencils and other materials to be delivered before students walk into the renamed building for the first time Monday.
With or without official "Howard B. Stroud" pencils next week, Stroud's legacy will be displayed prominently when students are greeted by a large portrait of Stroud hanging in the lobby.
But Pickett said there's more to honoring Stroud than placing his picture on the wall.
"It's a wonderful thing to honor someone," she said. "But the most important thing is making sure our school lives up to those lofty goals set by Mr. Stroud and our school district."
Through a 36-year career in the Clarke County School District as a teacher and administrator, Stroud is regarded as one of the most influential educators in Athens history. He helped lead Clarke County schools through integration in the years surrounding 1970, and as deputy superintendent was influential in seeing that the elementary school was built on Fourth Street in 1990.
That was the first school Clarke County built in a predominantly black area since integration, Clarke Central High School Principal Maxine Easom said Tuesday, and was an important step for the district. Stroud named Easom as Fourth Street's first principal, during his time as the district's interim superintendent.
"The whole concept of a neighborhood school had been embraced by all segments of the population for years; however, we had not honored that for the African-American community," Easom said. "It was long overdue, and he was influential in making that happen."
In addition to giving her an opportunity to be principal, Easom said Stroud served as a mentor to her and other educators in Athens. As a community leader, Stroud wasn't just an important figure in Athens' black community, but in the Athens community "period," she said.
"It wasn't about race to Stroud, but always about the right thing to do," she said.
Stroud's work to locate the school in the Fourth Street community was a recurring theme in the dozens of letters the Clarke County Board of Education received about the name change, board President Charles Worthy said. The board proposed the change in May, and took public comment through letters and e-mails for a month before its vote.
"Most all of (the letters) were very positive about it," Worthy said. "People in that community really wanted a school in that area, and he did a tremendous amount of work on that."
A member of Clarke Central's first fully consolidated class was state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond asked that a school be named after Stroud while speaking at Stroud's funeral in March.
"He was the bridge that helped Clarke County move from segregation to integration," Thurmond said Tuesday. "He provided wise counsel on how to help blacks and whites come together to be a more successful school system."
Stroud was Colleen Muckle Summerour's middle school principal in the 1970s, and she's now a teacher at Stroud Elementary. If the school district is going to honor educators by naming schools after them, Summerour said, Stroud is an obvious choice.
"They should name it after people that, in their life, tried to do something to make a difference in other people's lives, by giving back," she said.
One group that stayed out of the debate over renaming the school was the Stroud family. Most family members would not discuss the proposal publicly prior to the board's vote, but were quietly hoping to see the name change, Charles Stroud said.
"We're as proud as we can be," he said. "Not only was he a community leader, but a family leader for the Stroud family."
Workers pass under a banner Tuesday announcing the new
name honoring former educator Howard B. Stroud at what once was Fourth
Street Elementary School.
David Manning / Staff