Board finds ‘win-win’ solution for school name

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
After the Greater Jasper School Board selected the name Wilson Elementary for the new elementary school, members of the community voiced their opposition to it causing the board to hold a special meeting Tuesday evening at Jasper High School to discuss the name. Kelly Schwartz, from left, of Jasper, Jacque Beier of Ireland, Melissa Hall of French Lick, Sharon Mehringer of Jasper, Junie Himsel of Ireland and Stacy Hilgefort of Jasper listened during the meeting.


JASPER — Following a week of backlash and public outcry, the Greater Jasper School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to change the name of the corporation’s future elementary school from Wilson Elementary School to Jasper Elementary School.

In what Superintendent Tracy Lorey presented as a “win-win” solution, the school’s media center will be dedicated in honor of George R. and Margaret A. Wilson.

“When we think about the kinds of habits that we try to instill in the elementary students that attend those schools, we think about one of the habits that talks about finding a win-win,” Lorey said.

Board members told a crowd of about 75 people that they were aware of the public’s response prior to the meeting — some noting they received phone calls, emails and messages both opposing and supporting the original name. 

School board member Tim DeMotte shared his reasons for earlier voting 'yes' to the name Wilson Elementary to people gathered at the high school. The board later voted unanimously to name the school Jasper Elementary.

Members both spoke of a need to compromise in their opening comments and defended the school board’s original decision.

The Wilson Elementary name was proposed by local historians Junie Himsel and Joe Rohleder at the board’s monthly meeting on Nov. 27. The two initially came to Lorey with the idea years before the discussion of constructing a new school began last spring.

Board President Bernie Vogler said in his opening statement that he “messed up” by not tabling the original proposal to gauge public reaction. The Wilson Elementary name passed unanimously at last week’s meeting, and the critical opposition began on social media later that night.

Several members from the community expressed concerns that they didn’t feel included in the naming process.
“I don’t doubt that you guys did your due diligence,” local attorney and Jasper constituent Greg Schnarr said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The appearance — for myself and for some others here in this room — is that they would like to be heard on the matter as well, the same as they had on other opportunities in the past.”

Sarah Sergesketter of Jasper expressed her disappointment that the public wasn't more involved with the naming of the new school. "I just wish the public could've had some input," Sergesketter said. "

And while the board members ultimately all voted in favor of the name Jasper Elementary, they also backed their support for the Wilson Elementary name.

“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,” said board member Arlet Jackle. “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.”

Later, she said: “But I understand it’s not what I want, it’s what you want. And everybody has spoken very clearly via Twitter, on Facebook. I think we all need to compromise, and I think that’s the important part.”

The Wilsons were siblings who had a significant impact on education and life in general in Dubois County during the late 19th and early 20th century. The two held various positions as teachers and superintendents in the county and George served on many state committees to advance educational interests across Indiana and was the president of the Indiana County Superintendents’ Association. George was also a surveyor, artist, industrialist and businessman. He penned more than 10,000 pages of Dubois County history.

Sandra Miller of Jasper listened to members of the board give their reasons for initially voting 'yes' to the name Wilson Elementary. "I know who George and Margaret are and I'm really into history but I just think the new school should bear the Jasper name," Miller, a former Ireland Elementary school teacher said.

Board member Ken Schnaus went as far as saying George and Margaret have done “almost as much for public education as people like Abraham Lincoln have done for our country.”

“And yet even in their hometown, very few people knew who they were,” he said of the Wilsons in a written statement. “Jasper should be proud of them and herald their accomplishments, not keep them secret.”

Jasper Elementary is set to open on the same grounds as Jasper Middle School in January 2020. It will combine the populations of students at Fifth Street School and Tenth Street Elementary.

The board approved the basic design and layout of the school at its November board meeting, and architects with Gibraltar Design are now refining the plans to prepare bid specifications for general contractors and subcontractors. The corporation hopes to bid the project out in February or March and start construction in May.

Following a week of backlash and public outcry, the Greater Jasper School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to change the name of the corporation’s future elementary school from Wilson Elementary School to Jasper Elementary School.

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