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Decatur School Board considers renaming Renfroe to Beacon Hill Middle School

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Decatur School Board considers renaming Renfroe to Beacon Hill Middle School

Beacon Hill Middle, formerly known as Carl G. Renfroe Middle School, City Schools of Decatur, W. College Avenue.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur is considering renaming Renfroe Middle School to Beacon Hill Middle School.

The school board will vote on the name at its May 10 regular meeting.

In October 2021, the school board revised the district’s policy related to naming and renaming schools. The policy now requires that “school buildings where students attend will be given names of local communities, neighborhoods, streets and landmarks.”

The name recommended cannot be a duplicate, cause confusion, or otherwise conflict with the names of existing facilities within City Schools of Decatur.

“Therefore, in accordance with our policy, we are embarking on a process to rename Renfroe Middle School, and we are inviting the entire CSD community to participate in the process,” a previous Dr. Fehrman’s Friday Follow Up newsletter stated.

The board invited the community to submit name suggestions in March, and the submission form closed on April 15.

Name suggestions included Decatur Middle School, Trinity Middle School and Beacon Hill Middle School, among a few other options. The System Charter Leadership Team recommended these three names.

“They felt that it preserved the legacy of the history of the community, it has strong community support, feel that it would be better known than Beacon, it’s not neighborhood specific. Renfroe is actually in the MAK neighborhood, but it also goes well with Bulldogs,” Fehrman said at the April 26 school board work session.

The SCLT did think the name could be wordy with four words in the name. They opted to also provide Beacon Middle School as a suggestion. There was once a school named Beacon Elementary School in the community.

The group also recommended Trinity Middle School to commemorate the name of a former school.

“They feel like this also preserves the legacy and history of the community and honors the students of Trinity who are still living. This building [the Wilson Center] used to be Trinity High School,” Fehrman said. “Some of the cons is the possible connection to Christianity, to the Holy Trinity, and that there could be some negative connotations with that.”

The school board members favored Beacon Hill Middle School to honor the history of the Beacon Hill community. While the middle school doesn’t sit in Beacon Hill proper, there are no schools left in the community, board Chair Jana Johnson-Davis said.

“All of those schools were closed, so it will be a way to honor that community and Beacon Hill was the name of that community,” she said. “I like the idea of preserving the history of that community through renaming Renfroe that.”

Johnson-Davis added that it has been the tradition until now that the schools were named after communities.

The Beacon Hill community was the area of Decatur where freed slaves began to settle. The square mile area was the site of a thriving African-American community of homes, businesses, churches and schools. In the early 20th century, the neighborhood became known as Beacon Hill.

The city of Decatur’s Beacon Municipal Center, at West Trinity Place and Electric Avenue, was the where Herring Street School, Beacon Elementary and Trinity High School once stood.

Board member Dr. Carmen Sulton said the name would represent a special story that the middle schoolers need to understand how Beacon Hill shaped the city.

“Decatur did not always look and feel and smell and walk and talk the way that it does now,” Sulton said. “I think understanding that story is important for all of our students regardless of how long they’ve lived here, their race, their color, their gender, all those things. We all need to understand that.”

Board member Hans Utz submitted the name Beacon Hill Middle School in the survey. He said the name requires a reckoning around understanding where that name came from.

While the naming policy appears to single out Renfroe Middle School, Johnson-Davis previously said that is not the case.

“The policy change was not targeting any particular school,” Johnson-Davis said. “Renfroe is our only school that is named after an individual instead of a local community, neighborhood, street, or landmark as stated in the new policy.”

In the fall of 2021, the board heard from many concerned residents, including students, about the current name of the middle school.

“The Board recognizes that selecting a name for a school building is a vital component of its public image,” Johnson-Davis said. “After a great deal of discussion, we decided to change the School Naming and Renaming policy and ensure names selected for buildings where students attend reflect honorably on the City Schools of Decatur and the community.”

The board waited until now to change the name to make sure it had a process established that was clear and well-thought-out. The school board also wanted the name change to coincide with the end of the school year, so the district could process the name change and rebranding over the summer, she added.

A petition has been circulating for months criticizing former superintendent Carl Renfroe’s record on desegregating the school district. Attempts by Decaturish to confirm the allegations listed in the petition have been unsuccessful.

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