Cover Story: CMS school name controversy

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CORNELIUS, NC (WBTV) - What's in a name?  A lot if you're a high school in North Mecklenburg County.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports on the name controversy that's dividing a community and has some parents worried.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is introducing two new high schools next fall.  One in Mint Hill will be call Rocky River High School.  A second on Bailey Road in Cornelius will be named Hough High School.

And it's the possible mispronunciation of that name Hough (rhymes with "rough") that has parents concerned.

No one dreamed it would be creating this much controversy days after it was voted on by the school board and especially after it was vetted by a school naming committee.

But the concern of parents opposed to the name is very real and sincere and the controversy doesn't seem to be going away.

CMS has a long track record of naming high schools after people and never generating much lasting controversy.

Consider in recent years Butler High, named after a well-loved teacher tragically killed.

Phillip O. Berry, a long-time African American state senator.

Ardrey-Kell High School is named after two prominent historical families in south Mecklenburg.

So what's wrong with naming the high school on Bailey Road in Cornelius that will open next fall for W.A. Hough?

It's not the name that's the problem.  It's the way Hough may be mispronounced by someone who's not from around here.  (Think of it rhyming with "dough.")

One parent told the school board she fears, "The new Bailey High School will be called 'Ho' High."

While there's no name on the building yet it's become a divisive issue in north Mecklenburg and emotional for some parents.

"I just started bawling," says parent Janet Wirostek.  "Tears came to my eyes.  My sweet little girl without a doubt will be subject to the word 'ho'."

And on the other side, supporters of the name.  They're just as passionate.  They knew William A. Hough, who died several years ago, and are defending naming the high school in his honor, naming the new school after such a significant figure in CMS.

In discussions over the naming, school board member Joe White said, "I'm a little bit emotional about this one, doggone it."  (White worked for W.A. Hough years ago when White was a coach at North Mecklenburg High School.)

For twenty years in the 1950s, 60s and 70s Hough was the principal at North Meck.  He was known as "Mr. North Meck."

Community members say he was devoted to his students and known for his fairness. Hough also helped integrate North Meck in the mid 1960s.

David Boraks is the editor for a local news web site in Davidson  His web site has covered the story extensively.

Boraks says a school name advising committee clearly underestimated the backlash.

He says, "They discussed about it.  They decided it wasn't going to be an issue. It appears they may have underestimated the degree to which some people feel strongly about this."

Realizing it's a delicate issue, some parents are hoping good can come out of this.

Says Cornelius parent Ed Conway, "We need to work together. There's more than one way of honoring a man besides just naming a high school, especially if people feel that potentially the name could be misunderstood or used in a negative fashion."

So do you name a school in honor of a great principal or buy into the argument that down the road the name may invite teasing by opponents from other schools?

After a recommendation from a committee made up of members of the community, the school board approved the name Hough High School by a vote of seven-to-one.  But a new board comes in next month and some parents are hoping the board will decide to revisit the issue.

Do they have a chance of getting it reversed?

It's unclear right now.  One school board member held a drop-by at a coffee house in Davidson this week and got bombarded by parents who think the board should at least consider a do-over.. they believe it is dividing the community.

Ironically, one of the other names not chosen by the school board--- Unity.