Education

Manatee School Board renames school in Bradenton, honoring a champion of education

Manatee Superintendent Diana Greene discusses Wakeland, Johnson merger logistics

After Wakeland Elementary School and Johnson Middle School merge, a lot of the programming decision will be left up to the principals, Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene told parents Wednesday night. Video by Meghin Delaney
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After Wakeland Elementary School and Johnson Middle School merge, a lot of the programming decision will be left up to the principals, Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene told parents Wednesday night. Video by Meghin Delaney

Louise R. Johnson died in in 1992, after decades of service to Manatee County students, but her legacy will survive in a proud Bradenton neighborhood.

Until the school board’s vote on Tuesday evening, the school at 2121 26th Ave. E. was most recently known as Johnson-Wakeland School of International Baccalaureate. The temporary name emerged after Wakeland Elementary School closed and moved onto the same campus as Johnson Middle School last year.

Johnson’s name adorned the school since 1994, but Johnson Middle and Wakeland Elementary will officially become one K-8 campus next year. Laila Ward, a seventh-grade student at Johnson and a member of its school advisory council, said her peers are no stranger to change, but losing their school’s identity would be a hard change to bear.

“If Johnson’s name is not included in the overall name, we feel that Johnson’s legacy would seem like it just disappeared,” she said, addressing the school board.

The board responded with a unanimous vote, changing the name to Louise R. Johnson K-8 International Baccalaureate School — honoring a career educator and a champion of equal opportunities for all students. The district started accepting nominations more than six months before Tuesday’s meeting.

Johnson was a teacher for more than four decades, and she became the first black woman to be appointed to the Manatee County School Board in 1977, said Shelli Freeland Eddie, a leader within the local chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

As chair of the sorority’s Social Action Committee, she sent a letter and 35 signatures to school board members on Jan. 26, urging them to preserve Johnson’s name and honor the wishes of her family.

“She started significant programs that helped black youth — all youth — with regard to their enrichment and their growth,” Eddie said on Tuesday.

About two years before Johnson accepted a position on the school board, she earned the title of Florida’s Most Outstanding Woman, said Keenan Wooten, the athletic director for Electa Arcotte Lee Middle School.

Sometimes neighborhoods are rezoned, students are shuffled around and people lose their sense of community, he said, adding that one of Bradenton’s proud cornerstones — Johnson K-8 — was at risk on Tuesday.

“One thing we got right in our neighborhood was preserving the legacy of our leaders, and one of those leaders was Louise R. Johnson,” he said, just before the school board voted to preserve Johnson’s legacy.

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