At Thursday night’s called board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone and Richardson ISD trustees discussed potential name and mascot changes at two district schools. The adjustments relate to acknowledgements in the district – and throughout the nation – of hurt caused by the names of certain schools and their mascots.
Dr. Stone proposed changes at James Bowie Elementary and Westwood Junior High. Westwood’s Native American warrior mascot is featured in a floor tile mosaic at the school’s entry and a painted mural on the gym wall. The National Council of American Indians has said, “rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful.” Bowie was a slave trader according to the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
RISD’s superintendent has the responsibility of approving mascots, school colors, insignia, emblems, and flags, Stone explained.
“My immediate response, upon receiving the request [of new WWJH Principal Katie Mottram] was [that we should] paint over it and remove the installation on the floor of Westwood Junior High,” said Stone. “We have to show honor to indigenous people, and that does not do so. It can be contrary to the messages and lessons that we want to teach our students about indigenous Americans.”
Stone said she would work with campus officials to allow stakeholders from the community to choose a new mascot.
Naming district facilities is the responsibility of RISD trustees. School buildings may be named after streets or geographic areas, persons who donated property, or prominent people from the community, the arts, the field of education or national heroes. To avoid confusion, they may not duplicate the names of schools north of I-30 or east of I-35, according to board policy.
“When this request came across, I had to go brush up on my James Bowie history,” admitted Justin Bono. “Probably like a lot of the history we were taught, I’m not sure that my Texas history course included the full history of the life of James Bowie. I can tell you, some of that history is troubling, to say the least.”
Bowie is best known for inventing the “Bowie Knife” and dying at the Alamo. In addition, according to the Bullock Museum, the Kentucky-born Bowie was well known in Louisiana as a slave trader before he ever got to Texas. His father bought and sold slaves from his large plantation on the Vermilion River, and James Bowie worked with the pirate Jean Lafitte on Galveston Island trading slaves in the 1800s.
“It is never our intention to have a school named for an individual who doesn’t reflect the high standards of our community, of our school district, of our students, staff and teachers, so I do support you in exploring options for naming Bowie,” trustee Kim Caston told Stone. The school was named for Bowie in 1968.
Westwood and Bowie are located in the northern quadrant of RISD. In the Lake Highlands feeder pattern, most schools are named for the neighborhoods or streets where they were built, with a few exceptions. Wallace Elementary, dedicated in 1959, was named for Sam and Marguerite Wallace, who donated the 10 acres of farmland on which the campus was constructed. Harry S. Moss lived in Highland Park, but he purchased a bull at the 1930 State Fair and had no place to keep it. He purchased and built the 400-acre Moss Haven stock farm, which now hosts Moss Haven Elementary, Moss Park and the surrounding neighborhood. A.M. Aikin, Jr. Elementary, which opened in 1979 near Forest and Audelia, was named in honor of the Texas legislator with an interest in improving public education. In 1949 he co-authored the Gilmer-Aikin Laws, which raised teacher salaries and lengthened the school year. Thurgood Marshall Elementary, completed in 2005, honors the late Supreme Court Justice who, as an attorney, crafted the legal strategy which ended racial segregation in public schools. Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet was named for the neighborhood and for Dr. Richard T. Hamilton, a prominent African American physician.
The trustees are likely to discuss James Bowie Elementary when they meet again Aug. 10.