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What's in a Name?

In a time when many students in urban districts are struggling, school leaders in Long Beach, Calif., wanted to give one of their newest schools a name that would empower students and motivate them to succeed. That name—Colin L. Powell Academy of Success—has been the backbone for an emphasis on values such as honor, courage, and respect, officials say.

Colin L. Powell

But a plan to name an elementary school in Fairfax County, Va., after the secretary of state has drawn fire in the Washington suburb that Mr. Powell calls home. Opponents say that the choice carries too much political baggage, and that they prefer geographic names for their schools.

"It's just not good to name a school after a political person and a person who's still in the process of their career," said parent Barbara Waldman, who has two children who will attend the Centreville, Va., school. "I have no problem with Colin Powell as a role model for children. It has nothing to do with him being a Republican. I just don't think it's appropriate."

Naming the school Arrowhead Elementary, after a nearby park, would be more suitable, she said.

Despite the flak, the Fairfax County school board voted unanimously last week to name the school for Mr. Powell. The 166,000-student district has no policy on naming schools after people—dead or alive—but tends to stick to community-oriented names for elementary schools.

Currently, at least six schools across the country are named after the secretary of state, said Peggy Cifrino, his deputy chief of staff. Mr. Powell, whose parents emigrated from Jamaica, attended New York City public schools. He was the first African- American to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the first to become secretary of state.

Fairfax County already has a high school named after George C. Marshall, the Army's chief of staff during World War II and later the secretary of state.

District records show no evidence of opposition when the school was named in the 1960s. General Marshall was already dead, and it was not unusual then for the board to name schools without community advice, current school board member Catherine Belter said.

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 33, Page 31

Published in Print: April 30, 2003, as Federal File

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