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It's a New Era; consider naming our elementaries


   By Tony Ahern
   Publisher
   Another hats-off to the 509-J School District and their contractor for the building improvement undertaking. The high school looks fantastic. The remodel of the former Buff Elementary school is taking shape quite nicely.
   The school projects got me thinking the other day: With the christening of the Buff site as a third elementary school, it might be a great time to put some great names to our three elementary schools. I mean, Madras Elementary, Westside Elementary ... is Acme Elementary just around the corner?
   Why not put some creativity, maybe some history, into the naming of our elementary schools?
   In general, the Madras area is somewhat weak in honoring its past, and in many cases, its deserving people.
   How about turning Madras Elementary into Lillian Watts Elementary? Watts was the first school superintendent of Jefferson County, keeping a reign on all the one-room schoolhouses strewn about the county. She served admirably in the position for years, was the face of Jefferson County education for decades. When Madras officials "raided" the old Culver courthouse to get county records, they took everything except the records of Mrs. Watts. They probably knew what was good for them.
   How about Westside becoming Howard Turner Elementary? Howard Turner arguably did more for Madras in the first 50 years of the century than anybody. He was a peerless leader in business, community service, and second only to Harry Gard in irrigation efforts. He was the town's first mayor and a former state representative. When he died, he left a scholarship endowment that has helped kids go to college for over 40 years. All Madras has named after him, as far as I know, is a seldom-used side street.
   And lastly, how about naming the Buff school New Era Elementary? Here are three reasons: the original New Era school was one of the last of the homestead era schoolhouses to close; it served the Agency Plains area, which is as much a part of Madras as the basin town itself, and was vital to the town's formation and survival; and thirdly because it's a flat fantastic name for a school, a calling to the future and to potential.
   There are many other names that could be attached to a school, and many who are worthy of such an honor. Consider longtime school board members, or successful teachers or educational leaders who made great impacts. Howard Hillis and his son Steve were both great teachers for about a half-century combined. Darrell Wright and Phil Riley were excellent superintendents for close to 30 years combined -- Riley-Wright Elementary anyone?
   It certainly wouldn't be sacrilegious to rename these schools. Madras Elementary was simply Madras Grade School before its name was changed when Westside was established as the town's second elementary school in mid-'90s. Westside had been a high school and junior high before its rebirth as an elementary school. We wouldn't be shaking history to rename it. As for the Buff, it's been a junior high, a fifth- and sixth-grade elementary school and an alternative school. With its wonderful new look, it's ready for a new, creative name.
   I know naming things can be tricky. Some people can be offended and feelings can be hurt. But I contend that the Madras area is too hesitant to honor its history, and its important citizens. Our three elementary schools would be a good place to start.
   With the new school construction, houses going up all over the place, there is indeed a lot of great things going on in Madras.
   The city-Bean Foundation effort to lure a developer onto the eastern slopes of the community is intriguing. As an introduction to our fantastic little town, the city and Bean Foundation provided a developers' tour on Tuesday. As if on cue, the clouds that met the morning disappeared by tour time, providing one of our spectacular blue-sky days to showcase the Cascade views.
   State prison or no state prison, Madras is going to have a robust future. It's a New Era, so to speak.