What's in a name?
Ask the students, parents and staff of Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin who soon will be voting on a possible name change.
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Elgin Area School District U-46 is hosting a town-hall meeting Oct. 15 to seek public input on a proposal to rename Sheridan school in honor of the late Ronald O'Neal, the district's first black principal and administrator.
According to district policy, public input is required before the school board can vote on the name change proposal.
O'Neal served as Sheridan's principal from 1970 to 1974.
During his more than three decades with U-46, O'Neal served as principal of Larsen Middle School from 1974 to 1994, principal of Elgin High School from 1994 to 2001, and interim administrator of Gifford Street High School after his retirement. He died in December 2009.
Retired U-46 teacher and administrator Ralph Vaughan, who made the name change proposal, said he wants to honor O'Neal's legacy with the district. Vaughan served with O'Neal for 15 years as assistant principal at Larsen.
"He made a big impact on me," said Vaughan, 67, of Huntley. "That was my first administrative position. I learned a lot from him ... and saw what an impact he had on staff, children and parents there."
Vaughan said O'Neal was involved with a lot of committees and served on many civic boards in the Elgin area, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, YMCA, PADS of Elgin, the Elgin Police and Fire Commission, the city's committee to have Elgin named an "All-American" City, and the Kane County state's attorney's Second Chance Program.
"I just thought it would be fitting and appropriate for the school district to honor someone that had put in so much time and effort in the district and in the community, as opposed to just have it continue to be named for a Civil War general," he said.
The current Sheridan Elementary school building opened its doors in 1973. The original school, built in 1888, was called Hill Street School. In 1898, it was renamed Sheridan Elementary School to honor Philip Henry Sheridan, a Civil War Union general who died the same year the school was built. Vaughan and district officials agree a name change could be a sensitive issue, especially when it comes to sentiments over school identity and pride.
Sheridan Principal Nita White said although she didn't work with O'Neal, she recognizes he was "a great educator" who made significant contributions to the district.
"With any change, of course it brings about many emotions from individuals both positive and negative," she said. "I'm very neutral and would really like to get the feedback of all constituents in reference to the name."
District officials are currently analyzing the cost of a potential name change.
Vaughan said the district has a history of renaming schools so it's only fitting that Sheridan bear O'Neal's name to recognize his contribution.
"He was the first black administrator in the district, that says something for him right there," he added. "There are a lot of people within the community that got to know him and saw how he worked with kids and with them."
The town-hall meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 in the gymnasium at Sheridan, 510 Franklin Blvd. Written comments can be submitted by visiting u-46.org or sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.