Westside High looks for fresh start in new school year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A school on Jacksonville's westside is looking to get a fresh start this fall.

Westside High School on Firestone Road will welcome students back on August 18 with a brand new identity.

"It's a positive thing. People have to remember that. It's a very positive thing," said senior Mikayla Stanfield.

Stanfiled has the unique honor of being the first ever Ms. Westside High, and as her first official duty, she would like people to know the school is ready to move on from decades of racially fueled controversy.

"We did vote for the name to be changed, so this is what we want. And it's going to be done," she said.

Since 1959, the school had been named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General in the Civil War who also had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

The topic has always been a point of contention in Jacksonville, and there have been attempts before to have the school's name changed.

But it wasn't until last year that a local petition online garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures from around the globe and reignited the debate.

Many people argued the name carried historic significance and should be kept as a way to pay homage to Jacksonville's southern legacy.

But others said a school whose student population is mostly African-American should not be named after someone who was once involved with the KKK.

Ultimately, the Duval County Public School Board and Forrest High student body voted in favor of renaming the building Westside High and selecting the Wolverine as the mascot.

Stanfield, who's African-American, told First Coast News the entire issue was blown out of context outside school walls, but that she is happy the name was changed.

"I feel a lot more comfortable now that I can tell people what school I go to," she said.

Now, you'll see Westside Wolverines has replaced Forrest Rebels in places like the school gym and on the front windows to the school office.

"I'm excited because my students are excited. They have been here through this process. Some students have stepped in over the summer to watch the change," said principal Dr. Gregory D. Bostic.

The hope for some going into the year is that the school's new identity won't just be cosmetic, but transformative as it begins a new chapter.

"I think we've made our mark, and we'll continue to grow on that mark. We'll continue to make things happen," Bostic said.

Stanfield echoed, "We're definitely looking to make some history. I think that's the biggest thing."

Duval Public Schools estimated the cost of the renaming to be around $242,000.

Donations are being accepted right now online here, but only $3,000 has been raised so far.

Bostic said the total was disappointing. "They're (donations) coming in slowly. Not like we would have liked for them to come in, but they're coming in. I get e-mails, I get phone calls about how to donate toward this cause."


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