The Manchester School Board voted 3-2 to strike a motion to reconsider renaming Westwood Junior High Manchester Middle School.
As Westwood prepares to transition next fall from its historic and current grades 7-9 junior high format to a middle school structure for grades 6-8. Westwood’s rising ninth-graders will be moved to Coffee County Central High.
Coffee County’s school board and the Coffee County Commission are pressing on with a plan to build a new Coffee County Middle School on property off of Highway 53 – on the edge of the Manchester city limits. A ninth grade academy would then occupy the existing middle school site sprawled at the on/off ramp of Interstate 24’s Exit 111.
After hearing emotional pleas from both sides of the issue, the board sided with proponents who argued that the name “Westwood” is a part of a tradition and history important to students, faculty and alumni.
Proponents of naming the school Manchester Middle School said the new name would reflect the broader community that the school serves.
The current school operates under a junior high format for grades 7-9. It will change to a middle school plan for grades 6-8 next school year.
Petitions pushing for “Manchester Middle School” circulated around town on the eve of the board’s decision, while the Facebook banter bristled against losing the name “Westwood”.
Opponents to the move argue that money should not be spent unnecessarily on new band and athletic uniforms, the gymnasium floor, and tiles at the entrance to the school – all of which show the name “Westwood”.
“We all feel Westwood is a place we’re connected to – like a person. And we all know that person and it changes the identity of that person – and nobody like that,” former Westwood Junior High student McKenzie Lewis told the board.
Westwood guidance counselor Gordon Matthews argued that the name of the new school should reflect the broader Manchester Community.
“Over 60 percent of the teachers [at Westwood Junior High] prefer the name ‘Manchester’,” Matthews told school board members. “In most communities,their teams reflect the community they’re from.”
The meeting became somewhat heated when Westwood teacher Jennifer Clark challenged the veracity of a teacher survey Matthews circulated.
Clark argued that the school’s traditions and reputation of academic and athletic excellence behind the name “Westwood” would be destroyed with a change in the school’s name. “Why flush 50 years of tradition; 50 years of recognition? For what?”
Board members Bob Bellamy and Susan Parsley voted for the measure that would have cleared the way for a vote on the official name of the school. Members Lisa Gregory, John Mayberry, and Susan Wood voted against it.