First, let me say I have a lot of respect for Gail McKinzie, Polk County’s former superintendent of schools.
She did an admirable job as the first appointed superintendent in the county’s history, and was gracious with me in my limited dealings with her when I was at The Ledger. So this post is in no way meant as a slight to her or the job she did with Polk’s schools.
That being said, the School Board’s decision to name a new elementary school in Mulberry after McKinzie has rightfully caused citizens to question the Board’s judgment.
Again, McKinzie did some great things for Polk County in her six years as superintendent.
As The Ledger pointed out in her retirement piece, McKinzie oversaw an increase in the graduation rate from 70.5 percent to 74.7 percent. The freshman academy idea got off the ground during her tenure, with academies having been built already at a handful of high schools with more to come.
She also provided needed independence from the School Board itself, while maintaining good working relationships with board members. She altered the organization of the school district with new administrative positions, and was professional enough in her dealings with the teachers’ union that the union president wished her nothing but the best in that same retirement piece.
So, McKinzie deserves praise and recognition for her work here. But should she be essentially immortalized by naming a school after her?
I’m sorry, but no. At least not yet.
Lawton Chiles, one of the most important Polk County natives in history and our former governor, didn’t have a school in the county named after him until he passed away in 1998.
Spessard Holland, another former governor of Florida who was from Bartow, died in 1971 and just had a school named after him in 2008.
And the School Board wants to name a school after a former superintendent – whose only connection to Polk County are the six years she held that office – one year after she retired?
It doesn’t fit. Throw in the fact that the decision was made without public input, and it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Mulberry citizens are pushing to name the school after Marine Cpl. Ron Payne Jr., a Mulberry native who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. I know Payne’s father, and think that would be a fine decision to honor Payne.
But so would a bunch of other names, including that of former Polk superintendent and FHSAA director John Stewart. Or be generic, with something like Heartland Elementary or a name more befitting on the area’s phosphate heritage. Heck, Mosaic Elementary even makes more sense than McKinzie Elementary.
Really, the citizens should have the greatest input, not the School Board.
In time, McKinzie may very well deserve the honor of having a school named after her. But now is not the time.