Jacksonville, FL - Nathan B Forrest High School is graduating its last class this spring and the schools' new name, Westside High, will begin in July.
That unanimous vote by the Duval County School Board on Tuesday night to change the name of the school has board members hoping to close a chapter of controversy and refocus the community on education.
The cost of changing all the sports equipment, school marquee and other branded areas is estimated at $400,000, and private donations may be sought to offset the cost.
“We should try to raise private dollars to do that. I don’t think it should be done at the taxpayers expense,” says Board Member Jason Fischer.
“The benefit of that (donors) is that we wouldn’t use District dollars,” says Superintendent Dr. Vitti.
No formal discussion has taken place among the board at this time, however. Vitti says that will likely take place at an upcoming workshop or meeting. He says any remaining bill will not come from money that could have gone to the classroom, but instead from the District’s Capitol budget.
Students, faculty, alum and other stakeholders were given a choice between Westside High School, Firestone High School, and a write-in option. Westside and Firestone had been the frontrunners from when the same group was polled on whether the name should be changed.
The survey results obtained by WOKV show 439 of the 751 students who voted favored Westside High School and 172 chose Firestone. West Duval and Valhalla were the two write-ins which garnered the most votes, 65 and 39 respectively.
“We’re not looking backwards, we’re moving forward,” says School Board member Constance Hall, whos district includes Forrest.
The change will be in effect by July 2014- the next school year.
Last month, the school board voted unanimously to change the school’s name. The main reasons cited for their votes included a desire to move past the controversy the name continues to cause in the community and following the will of the students.
A movement to change the name started late last year over those in the community who were concerned about the history of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the school’s namesake. While his exact roles are disputed, he’s is believed to have been a Confederate General and KKK member or leader. The name has come under fire before, but a prior vote at the district level was against the change.
This time around, the Superintendent made his recommendation to change the name because a poll of current students showed a majority wanted change, even though nearly all alumni polled wanted to keep the name. Vitti says in his student-focused model for running the District, the students should get their voices heard.
Fischer, Hall, and Board Chair Becki Couch all tell me they are open to seeking private donors to help cover the bill- an idea first floated by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who, ahead of the name change vote, told the board he had some donors who had shown an interest.
Supt. Vitti and the Board are unanimous in hoping that when the doors open to Westside High School in 2014 the community will unite behind the goal of higher education instead of divide over potential controversy. One looming decision that will be made at the school level is over a potentially problematic mascot at the soon-too-be-Westside High- the Rebels. There is no plan at this time to change that, and Vitti says if there is a change it will involve students and the Principal, not the District.