Kent Parent has done a lot of terrific things at Balfour School.
The principal, under the authorization and guidance of the county School Board, has installed new industrial training programs and other academies that have made the school an important component of public education.
Balfour succeeded the old Tuxedo School as the county's alternative school, which used to mean the facility for high school students with disciplinary problems and for teenage moms. The School Board and Mr. Parent have made remarkable progress turning Balfour into much more than an alternative school. Mr. Parent wants to put an exclamation point on the rebranding by renaming the school.
The School Board last month endorsed the name change — to the pedestrian and unwieldy Henderson County Career and Technical Academy. (It's now called Balfour Education Center.)
The principal, a history major himself, makes a strong case for the name change. Now, only a small fraction of Balfour's 120 fulltime students are there for disciplinary reasons. Instead, high school students who struggle in a traditional classroom or come from broken homes are training for more advanced factory jobs, daycare jobs, business and finance and the fire service. "My priority is more to the student than to the history," Mr. Parent said. We applaud his devotion while raising a defense of that history.
In our view, the elected leaders should abandon this well-intentioned but short-sighted effort that would remove an important historic link from a public building serving a public function. There is a simple and obvious alternative: Balfour Academy.
The community around the school got its name from Col. William Balfour Troy, who established the quarry that supplied most of the granite used to build the Biltmore house. In 1924, Capt. Ellison Adger Smyth, a Civil War veteran and South Carolina textile pioneer, "retired" to Flat Rock and became the third owner of the home built in 1836 by Christopher Memminger, the Confederate treasurer who had christened the property Rock Hill. To honor his Irish ancestry Smyth changed the name to Connemara. Today most of us call it the Carl Sandburg home.
Bored in retirement, Smyth, at age 77, established Balfour Mills. Started with 10,000 spindles, the new mill was supported by a village of 76 cottages that housed workers and their families. Smyth family members ran Balfour Mills until they sold the factory to Kimberly-Clark Corp. in 1946.
So, in a very real way, Balfour Academy, which has wisely added technical training to the menu of high school options, would maintain that connection to our county's rich industrial history.
Built in the 1920s, Balfour School has undergone functional changes that raise the need for new and different space. Remodeling or even replacement is in the School Board's long-range capital plan. But whatever it looks like 20 years from now, it will still be — or ought to be — the Balfour campus, in the Balfour community.
School Board member Rick Wood deserves credit for stepping onto the court and calling a timeout.
"I didn't sense anybody other than myself that had concerns (about the name change) but I felt like if we could delay it a month we'd at least give the community the opportunity to have input with the School Board," he said. "We might consider using another name that has Balfour in it."
The name change discussion is on the School Board agenda Monday, March 11.
The history community is starting to catch up.
Everyone from historian emeritus George A. Jones to the Henderson County Heritage Museum to longtime Balfour Elementary School principal Corum Smith is now objecting to the historectomy on Asheville Highway.
"We understand that the function of the school is changing, but we feel very strongly that the history represented by the name should be preserved while recognizing the new purposes," the museum board said. "We are gratified in learning of the excellent work of Principal Kent Parent and are confident that his work will soon change the public image attached to the Balfour School."
The museum board is exactly right, and exactly on point.
Mr. Parent and the School Board are fighting a war they've already won.
Balfour School has successfully rebranded itself already — with innovative programs, advanced technology and a strong commitment to job readiness. As Balfour Academy, the non-traditional high school would honor the neighborhood's industrial past while continuing to ensure its graduates a promising future.
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