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updated: 1/14/2014 8:52 AM

U-46 to rename school to honor 1st black principal

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  • Ronald O'Neal

      Ronald O'Neal

  • Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin will be renamed in honor of the late Ronald O'Neal, Elgin Area School District U-46's first black principal and administrator.

       Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin will be renamed in honor of the late Ronald O'Neal, Elgin Area School District U-46's first black principal and administrator.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board Monday night voted to rename Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin in honor of the late Ronald O'Neal, the district's first black principal and administrator.

O'Neal served as Sheridan's principal from 1970 to 1974.

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U-46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said that before last spring the district did not have a policy allowing the renaming of existing schools.

In researching school names, Sanders said, the staff learned more about the history of how U-46 schools got their identities.

"It was either (named after) streets or nondescript things identified by geographic location," he said.

Some schools were named after prominent local people.

Board member Jennifer Shroder said renaming a school to honor someone local is appropriate and in keeping with the district's tradition.

"I was struck by the interesting history in Elgin generally," she said. "Most of the schools were named after streets. When they did rename them, usually they picked local people that they were honoring somehow. This seems very appropriate."

The current Sheridan Elementary School building, 510 Franklin Blvd., opened its doors in 1973. The original school, built in 1888 at 501 Ann St., 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.

The district and local historians found no record of ties between the general and the Elgin area, according to a district report. In 1871, Sheridan oversaw military relief efforts after the Great Chicago Fire, and he was a key figure in the development of "The Camp at Highwood," later renamed Fort Sheridan in 1888, just north of Chicago.

Three other elementary schools named Sheridan exist in Illinois.

During his four 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 suggested the name change to honor O'Neal's legacy with the district. Vaughan, 67, of Huntley, served with O'Neal for 15 years as assistant principal at Larsen. Vaughan said he learned a lot from O'Neal and his leadership style.

O'Neal had been 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, according to Vaughan's nominating letter.

Per district policy, U-46 solicited public input on the name change proposal at an October town-hall meeting. An overwhelming majority of the roughly 70 community members there supported renaming the school, while a few attendees were opposed. More than 90 written comments also were submitted through the district's website, email and letters.

For some former alumni, the proposed name change was a sensitive issue because of sentiments over school identity and pride.

Overall, 118 people voiced support for the name change, while 24 people were opposed.

Sanders said renaming Sheridan School should not cost more than $5,000, which includes replacement of signage for less than $2,000, and replacing floor mats, spirit wear and other items bearing the school name throughout the building.

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