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Editorial: Of plaques and history

Who is responsible for the construction of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education’s new central office building?

The name of the building — Wallace Educational Forum — appropriately acknowledges the pivotal role played by the family of Lee and Mona Wallace. Though the project is taxpayer-supported, the school board and commissioners might still be haggling over sites if the Wallaces had not offered an attractive land swap.

When it comes to public officials involved in the endeavor, the school board has had a hard time figuring out whose name to put on a plaque to be displayed in the building. Monday they voted to include current school board and county commission members, as well as former school board members L.A. Overcash and Kay Wright Norman, and  former commissioners Jon Barber, Chad Mitchell and Jim Sides. Considering how often Sides threw obstacles in front of the construction of a central office, teachers can use the plaque to illustrate the meaning of “ironic.”

Here’s a short list of people who truly helped the school system reach this point. Their names should be etched in county history.

Anne Fuller, as a member of the Salisbury Board of Education, was the first person to make a determined push for merging city and county schools to create a more efficient, equitable system. The process turned out to be thornier and more political than expected. If Fuller had not soldiered on, Rowan might still have two school systems. She died in 2014.

Reid Leonard and Marcelle Williams were chairmen of the city and county school boards, respectively. Though Williams resisted merger initially, he eventually came around, thanks to Leonard’s patience. Willaims died in 2013. Leonard is retired.

Dr. Don Martin, the first superintendent of the new system, pulled the merger agreement from the flames of city-county rivalry. School district lines had not yet been drawn when Martin was hired, and the lines changed more than 200 times as negotiations wore on. Martin never gave up.  He is retired now, after leading the Winston-Salem/Forsythe schools for 19 years.

Carl Eagle, vice chairman of the county school board, was elected in 1989 as the merged school board’s first chairman, on a 5-4 vote. Despite that split, Eagle proved to be a unifier. He approached the role with a deep sense of fairness. He is also retired.

The fact that it’s taken 25 years to go from new district lines to the establishment of a true central office further illustrates how tremendous an accomplishment the systems’ merger was. Let that be a lesson. The names on a plaque may tell who happened to be in office at some point in time. You have to look elsewhere, though, to get the rest of the story — the real story.

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