The former Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools now have new names.
After the Tyler ISD Board of Trustees discussed both school names, the former Robert E. Lee will become Tyler Legacy High School, while John Tyler will return to its former name of Tyler High School.
The board voted six to one to change both names on Thursday during a workshop session at the Jim Plyler Instructional Complex.
The decision came after the board voted on July 16 to rename Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools. During the next board meeting on July 20, the board adopted policy guidelines on how the facilities could be named in the future and set up how the community could voice their choice for the new names.
Over 2,200 names were suggested by community members from July 21 to Aug. 3, Tyler ISD Executive Director of Communications Jennifer Hines said. The submissions were made through the Tyler ISD website and written letters.
Choices were then narrowed down through a focus group for each high school. Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford presented the choices from the focus groups for each high school.
The other name suggested for the former Robert E. Lee was Tyler Liberty High School. Crawford told the board the focus group was happy with both names, but preferred Tyler Legacy. He noted that the focus groups wanted Tyler in both suggested names.
Both committees were adamant that directional names not be a part of either high schools, Hines said.
Board member Dr. Patricia Nation, who voted in opposition to both name changes, noted the possibility of backlash of including Tyler within the new names.
Although she is a proud Tyler native, Nation said she worried that keeping Tyler could lead to another name discussion.
“I think we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we left Tyler in there,” Nation said during the discussion of the new name for the Robert E. Lee high school.
Board President Wade Washmon said he does not have a problem with including Tyler in the names of the high schools.
“It (having Tyler in the name) almost shows the public that we’re not ashamed of the city we live in,” Washmon said.
The other two names for John Tyler were Tyler Heritage High School and Tyler United High School, Crawford said.
Washmon said he personally liked Tyler High School as the name, noting that it was the former name of John Tyler High School from about 1880 to 1958.
“I do believe changing it back to Tyler High School would in a sense correct any decision made back in the 50s and honor our city’s original high school, named after the city and not after a specific man as it should have remained in my opinion all along,” Washmon said.
Board member Artis Newsome said the name should have remained as Tyler High instead of becoming John Tyler in the late 1950s.
Crawford said both name changes are a compromise and an olive branch to the community.
“There is compromise in a lot of this. I see this as an opportunity for a softer landing. Is it going to be that way? Probably not if their hearts are hardened, they’re just going to be mad about everything,” he said. “The students said they wanted Tyler because it’s where they live. They’re still blue. They’re the lions. They’re still red. They’re still the red raiders. There’s a little bit of compromise in both.”
Board member Andy Bergfeld said bringing the name Tyler High back is deserving for those who attended the school before becoming John Tyler.
“If the board feels the community would support that, it sure makes a lot of sense to me,” Bergfeld said.
Board trustee Yvonne Atkins said Tyler High will represent John Tyler well.
“We can’t make everybody happy. Our job is not to make everybody. Our job is to do what we think is best for our community and the districts we represent,” Atkins said.
While the names for the schools changed, the mascots will remain the same with Tyler Legacy as the Red Raiders and Tyler High as the Lions.
Bergfeld thanked the focus group for their work to come up with names by working through the process in a mature way.
After the votes, the board met with Tyler ISD leaders on how to transition into the new names.
Crawford suggested the board utilize money that is being raised through the East Texas Communities Foundation to help with costs related to rebranding the high schools, not bond money.
According to the foundation website, $72,000 has been raised so far out of a goal of $330,000.
Crawford said the board would have to choose to accept the donation.
“I think that would be a good use of donations that are specifically out there right now because of the change,” Crawford said. “I think it would be a good strategy, almost an olive branch to those that did not want this to happen.”
The gap in funds after the community donation could be paid for through the district’s maintenance and operations budget, Crawford said.
Bergfeld said he’s heard of faith leaders being interested in making donations as well. He said it would be greatly beneficial to offset costs for the school district.
Director of Visual and Performing Arts Sandra Newton and Athletic Director Greg Priest both addressed potential costs associated with the name transition.
Newton said the Tyler High’s recently purchased band uniforms do not have names on them, while Tyler Legacy’s uniforms aren’t set to be bought until next year.
Newton told the board marching band style seems to include the logo and not the school name.
Newton doesn’t expect major expenses within the Visual and Performing Arts department.
Priest said using old uniforms with the “TL” abbreviation would help with costs at the former Lee High School, which has been using Tyler Lee or TL on athletic uniforms.
He noted that some items have just a “T” on them and that could be helpful in the transition period as well.
Priest said the University Interscholastic League has always referred to John Tyler as Tyler High.
“I think that it will be a smooth transition for outside of Tyler,” Priest said.
Board members showed support of the use of the older uniforms prior to being able to order updated clothes. They also noted that if a student is uncomfortable, school officials can provide the student with another option.
Tyler Legacy High School Principal Dan Crawford and Tyler High School Principal Claude Lane both said there would be minimal costs associated with the changes.
Superintendent Crawford said he was comfortable with the guidance provided by the school board.