School considers honoring mayor with name change

Lara Takenaga

By the time Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton finishes her fourth and final term, she may see her name on the local middle school where she served as principal.

Mary Erickson, president of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board, first suggested renaming Haven Middle School in honor of Morton at the Dec. 15 school board meeting.

“Mayor Morton has been such a noted person in Evanston,” Erickson said. “I think she’s somebody who really deserves to be recognized for all that she’s done for the community and especially for our schools.”

Morton, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, is credited with breaking the color barrier at Evanston public schools. In 1957, she began teaching at the recently integrated Nichols Middle School. With that, she became the city’s first black public school teacher.

Twenty years later, Morton, who received her master’s in education from Northwestern, became principal of Haven Middle School – a role that lasted 12 years.

“I remember the night that they had a band performing when I retired,” she said. “Tears just flowed because I realized at that time how much affection I did have for my years (at Haven) and for the kids that were there.”

For eight of her years at the school, she worked as both the Haven’s principal and an Evanston alderman. Upon retirement from the school, Morton kept her city post, and eventually became Evanston’s first black mayor in 1993. This spring, she will finish her 16-years as mayor.

“I’m more than happy and deeply honored they would do that because it’s something I never dreamed of,” Morton said.

On Tuesday, school board members authorized the formation of a subcommittee to investigate renaming Haven. The school board’s procedure manual requires a committee as part of the building renaming process.

“We’ll meet and talk about the impact of renaming this school,” Erickson said. “We’ll hold a public hearing and then we will give a recommendation to the Board of Education.”

The committee will consist of a range of people involved with the potential name change, including Haven Middle School students, the principal, the assistant principal, teachers, the Parent-Teacher Association co-presidents and community members.

“We’re looking at it from a number of different angles,” school board member Keith Terry said. “To do it thoroughly, (the subcommittee members) are going to have to talk with many facets of the community.”

This means it may take months for the name change to come to a school board vote, when a final decision will be reached.

“We’d like to make it within a couple of months and then fully change the name in the springtime as the mayor comes to her last term in office,” Erickson said.

Because of Morton’s work in the community, school board members think Haven should bear the mayor’s name.

“If you look at what she’s done for not only the school system but for the city, she’s certainly done a lot,” Terry said.

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