Carver High to partly retain name as new use begins for closed Memphis school

While the recently closed Carver High School will have students again this fall by housing two existing alternative programs, the building will keep its name — sort of.

The reconfigured school will be known as George Washington Carver College and Career Academy, according to Shante Avant, a member of the Shelby County Schools Board of Education.

Avant offered the update to about 35 Carver High alumni and supporters Monday evening at Bloomfield Baptist Church.

The newest name serves an olive branch to the South Memphis neighborhood where Carver High was an anchor for 59 years before the school board decided in June to close it. District administrators said the school was significantly under-enrolled, with about 1,000 empty seats, and a long list of maintenance needs.

Last week, when Superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced that the district would repurpose the building by moving in two alternative schools for 300 students, the reconfigured school was to be called MLK College and Career Academy.

But Avant said district leaders recognize Carver’s history and legacy in the community. They plan to keep the high school’s current outside signage and retain part of its name in the school’s new moniker.

“We don’t want this community obliterated,” Avant said. “Closing the building and boarding it up would do just that. … And we also recognize that the name of the school is an important piece to this community.”

Though keeping George Washington Carver in the name is helpful, it’s not enough, said Edward Vaughn, president of the Carver alumni association and pastor at New Revelation M.B. Church.

“It doesn’t thrill me that this new program may be in the building indefinitely,” Vaughn said. “Moving 200 kids out of the school, then bringing in 300 kids, I just don’t understand the rationale. We understand the needs of the district, but we keep asking, ‘why our school? Why always our schools?'”

Many alumni and community members opposed closing Carver High this year, and some have been exploring legal action against the school board to force the district to reopen the neighborhood school.

Avant said the alternative programs will occupy the building for at least a year, but it’s not a long-term solution, as Carver was built to house 1,200 students.

“The meetings today are the start of a dialogue with the community about their interests for future use of the school,” Avant said. “My intent is to work closely with the community as we think of best uses for the school.”

The meeting also was attended James Suggs, director of the new school, and Valerie Matthews, director of alternative schools for the district.