Wednesday, Oct. 27, marked a new era for Midtown High School, formerly Grady High School, as the Atlanta Public Schools community turned the page on an old chapter toward a new beginning with a special renaming and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The celebratory program was held in Midtown High School’s spacious and newly renovated media center. The school had been named for Henry W. Grady, a 19th century journalist and orator who was a supporter of white supremacy. The Atlanta Board of Education voted in the fall of 2020 to rename both the school and its stadium. A student vote settled unanimously on the name Midtown High School.
This fall, the state-of-the-art facility opened with a $34.9 million renovation, funded through E-SPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). It features: a four-level addition; 10 new classrooms (replacing modulars); four industry-certified Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) spaces; two science labs; a new media center; administrative offices; counseling spaces; enlarged cafeteria with a school store; family living center for students with special needs to learn life skills; and additional parking spaces.
To celebrate the renaming and ribbon-cutting, the ceremony featured Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, members of the Atlanta Board of Education, Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman, students, staff and administrators, and several stakeholders, partners, and community members. The event also included a captivating musical selection by the Midtown Orchestra and Chorus, as well as a student poem, name unveiling and ribbon cutting.
During her greetings, Dr. Herring acknowledged school administators, staff, and Atlanta Board of Education members for their commitment and leadership, while also acknowledging those trailblazing students who led the effort to rename the school.
“On this journey, we’ve worked to untie and untether the reputation and achievements of this school from a name that should simply be put behind us,” Dr. Herring said. “We release that name because it did not represent our collective values. It did not bond with the heart of the campus, but for obvious reason, the old name is now retired and we stand now in a new era. It was at times challenging work, and it did take a long time, but the result is a result of the voices of our scholars and I think that alone is wonderful because it’s the product of the voices of our scholars. We know that excellent work will continue to happen.”
Seniors Kelly Tran and Ava Smith are both co-editors in chief on The Southerner who witnessed first hand the groundswell of support for a name change. For them, the renaming has been gratifying. During the program, both recited a powerful poem about the history of their newly named school.
“This feels like our work has meaning, alongside the fact that people care about it as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It’s incredibly empowering because we know our newspaper has gravity. To see all the work we’ve done makes us realize that our voices matter, and that people are willing to listen and are willing to advocate with us.”
“I think it really was a community effort, and it started with an editorial that was written by The Southerner way before we ever became stafffers on the paper,” Ava added. “The fact that the students were able to keep that alive and keep momentum going – even through graduating classes and different administrations – and ensure that the name of our school matched how we saw ourselves and how the community saw us. We’ve made a name for ourselves in the community as a school that appreciates innovation and critical thinking and diversity. We wanted a name for our school that helps us move forward into what we saw as the next chapter of Midtown High School.”
For Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman, the celebration marked an exciting moment and a new beginning for Midtown High.
“It’s very normal for our students to take an initiative, follow through, write about it, and implement it, and I’m very proud of them for that,” Dr. Bockman said. “My job as principal is to let that happen and let them take it. I keep things steady and trust the students, and it’s amazing to see what they come up with on their own. I just guide them and to make their magic happen.”