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New school’s principal says Gibbs is the right name

By Jane Drennan

As the principal of the newest elementary school in Rochester, I was very disappointed to miss the meeting to select the finalists for the name of the school. But I, like others, had submitted suggestions that were not selected.

However, I trusted the committee and the process and hoped that an acceptable name would emerge. Professionally and personally I would consider it a privilege to work in a school named for George Gibbs. I have known the Gibbs family through our faith community for many years and Mrs. Joyce Gibbs, a substitute teacher in the Rochester public schools, frequently subbed at Riverside Central, my former school.

The name, George Gibbs Elementary, provides numerous opportunities for adults to share with the children the accomplishments of an admirable community member. The first opportunity is that we can teach by honoring a great man who lived and raised his family in Rochester.

George Gibbs was a role model any parent would want their child to emulate. He was a gentle, yet courageous man who believed in promoting all people equally. He demonstrated this daily by the way he treated others at work, at church, and in the community. His courage was evident when he started the Rochester chapter of the NAACP when he and his family withstood some of the most challenging times of racial oppression in our community and country.

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We can teach our children what it means to be an adventurer and to pursue your dreams. Earlier this year, I attended a community tribute to George W. Gibbs and was reminded of his trip to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd. What an opportunity to help our children know about one of our community members who faced life-threatening challenges during a pioneering event in history.

We can all learn and teach our children the importance of standing tall in the face of adversity. George and Joyce were examples of the Martin Luther King quote: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." — Martin Luther King in "Strength to Love" (1963).

I remember Joyce sharing at church some of their family’s negative experiences as blacks in Rochester. I recall how saddened and shocked I was to learn how racism reared its ugly head in a community I hold so dear. Unfortunately, it continues today and this is an opportunity for us to teach our children how to follow the example of a family who has fought the cruelty of racism with grace and dignity.

I applaud the school board for its willingness to name the new school for George Gibbs.

The name Riverside Central exists today because Eleanor Roosevelt was too controversial. We know that any name will be contentious and it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. Riverside is dear to my heart but I am proud of the school board for its unanimous agreement that this is the right name for our newest elementary. School board members should not be held hostage for an opportunity to honor a wonderful member of our community by naming the next Rochester school George Gibbs Elementary.

Jane Drennan has been appointed principal of the new elementary school being built in northwest Rochester.

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