Opponents Fight J.O. Johnson High School Name Change Proposal

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Criticism from former students continues as the Huntsville school district considers the retirement of the J.O. Johnson name for the city’s northwest high school.

During a “Save the J.O. Johnson High School name” meeting Tuesday evening held by the school alumni association, members committed to continuing their opposition of the school district’s plan to replace the name.

As opponents argue against taking the J.O. Johnson name off of the high school that serves northwest Huntsville, some people are asking: Who was J.O. Johnson?

According to research by our news partners at The Huntsville Times, James Oliver Johnson was a member of the Huntsville school board for one year, from 1967 to 1968. Johnson died suddenly while in office. He also served as a teacher and coach at the old West Huntsville High School.

According to a biography of Johnson, he also had a 31-year Army career, earning the rank of brigadier general before he retired in 1967. His wife, Ruth, was a teacher at East Clinton Elementary School.

[Click here to learn more about J.O. Johnson's life.]

According to an article published in The Huntsville Times on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1969, Johnson died during a trip to Atlanta the previous Saturday, Aug. 2.

The school board decided three days after Johnson’s death to name the yet-to-be-built northwest Huntsville high school after him. The architect’s design of the school had not yet been created.

J.O. Johnson High School opened its doors in 1972 with a capacity for 2,500 students. Johnson High last year had fewer than 600 students, which has prompted the school district to build a smaller high school on a new site.

The new campus will also have a junior high school that will replace Davis Hills and Ed White middle schools.

Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski announced last month has taken ownership of a plot of land along Pulaski Pike where a replacement campus for Johnson will be built. A junior high will also be built on the campus.

The school board is considering naming the schools after Mae Carol Jemison, a Decatur native and former astronaut who was the first black woman in space, and Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space and one of the seven astronauts killed aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.

The J.O. Johnson name would remain with the current building, which the city is planning to turn into a public service training facility.

(Information contributed by our news partners at the Huntsville Times)

10 comments

  • Jim Walters

    The HCSB can change the names of thesefailing schools and build new ones BUT it will not change the fact that they are still failing schools, no matter what Col. W. says. It is always easier to spend tax payers money than your own. The HCS system is sick and the parents need to wake up and demand changes starting at the top

    • Altus1966

      So does Johnson, Davis Hills, and Ed White deserve to stay in almost 50 yr old facilities while most schools in Huntsville are being rebuilt/replaced. BRAC is providing a lot of the funding and our 1/2 cent sales tax pays for the buildings. Dr Wardynski has done more for this system in the past 3 yrs that he has been here than all that has been done in the past 30 yrs. He has brought the school system from a 21 Million deficit to a 15 million dollar surplus in those 3 yrs. He has got schools approved for construction in months as opposed to years that it used to take. He had oversaw the implementation of computers for every student in HCS which has been lauded nationally since it is the largest school district to attempt to do in a short period. He saved the system 11 million dollars by converting to computers. He saved millions of dollars with software rebates that the system has not been taking advantage of over the years. He had the whole school system checks for efficiency and you are griping about him spending other peoples money. The man has saved the system from financial ruin and is now getting everyone new schools and you are griping about a name change on a failed school. Participate in those school meetings and you will see where they started and where they are now. He is going to get the city out of the Desegregation Order that it has been shackled with since 1970 by doing the right things. He implemented district wide hiring instead of school specific hiring that used to exist. He saved 1.1 million a year by shuttering the seldon center and replaced it with a contractor that even has in facility care for troubled youths. He implemented the free summer meal programs this past summer which by the way had been available from the federal govt since the 60’s but never used in Huntsville. The man has done quite a bit and will do quite a bit more in Huntsville. Our schools are much better since he has arrived. Johnson and the two middle schools whatever they will be renamed will be much better in the future. Change is already happening. Dr Wardynski has hired a top group of principals from TN who had one of the best turnaround school programs in US history. It is now a model for other schools to emulate and now we have the Head Principal and two of his principals from there now at Johnson so Dr Wardynski has been working hard to Help Johnson and all the schools in Huntsville. He does not want them to fail either.

  • Cynthia Markham

    Why spend that kind of money? Put it into the failing schools instead, it would be a lot cheaper. The school board needs to stop!! Why not name another school in Decatur after these people?

  • Susan Wode

    I think it’s strange that no one is suggesting a name change for Grissom High School which is also being rebuilt at a new location. Huntsville High School didn’t have to change its name when they rebuilt on the same site and the name change concept failed when they tried to do it to Lee High School. They need to leave Johnson High School’s name alone. The story mentioned a petition; how do we find it to sign?

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