Residents lose last bid to keep beloved educator's name on N.B. high school

·3 min read
The District Education Council has passed a motion asking the provincial minister of education to approve renaming the school. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News - image credit)
The District Education Council has passed a motion asking the provincial minister of education to approve renaming the school. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News - image credit)

It's all but over for the battle to keep a beloved principal's name on J.M.A. Armstrong High School.

The school, located in the village of Salisbury in southeastern New Brunswick, has been at the centre of an emotional tug-of-war for months over plans to change its name to Salisbury Regional School.

The school's full name is currently J.M.A. Armstrong High School/Salisbury Middle School, as the building houses both a high school and middle school.

Almost 2,000 people signed a petition protesting the name change last November, when they learned it had been voted on by students at the school and approved by the Anglophone East School District.

Residents said dropping the Armstrong name would strip the school of a beloved educator's legacy.

John Melvin Adair Armstrong was a community figure who served as a high school principal for 18 years, started an Air Cadets squadron for the village's youth, served on the district board and influenced many students to go on to become teachers themselves.

The school was named in his honour when it was built in 1981.

On Tuesday night, while lights flickered and council members worried about a power outage amid tumultuous wind and rain, the District Education Council (DEC) approved a motion to go ahead with the name change.

"This has gone on for the better part of two years," Coun. Alex Morton said. "The building should have one name. It's one building, it's one school."

Denis Duquette
Denis Duquette

'Very ambiguous' process: councillor

Morton conceded the process is "very ambiguous," but said "it's the only mechanism we have."

"A process was followed, it was imperfect but the intent behind it was good," he said. "It was probably more inclusive than it needed to be, even going so far as to have the students voting on the name they wanted on the building."

Morton said he appreciated how "involved and passionate this community can be," but said it was important to set an example for the students who voted to rename the school Salisbury Regional School.

"There are lots of things we can do to honour John Melvin Adair Armstrong but there's only one thing we can do to honour the wishes of the students," he said.

Morton's motion that the DEC write to the minister of education confirming the renaming of the school to Salisbury Regional School was carried, with nods of agreement from several council members.

Salisbury resident Veronica Keenan, who launched the protest petition in November and watched Tuesday's livestreamed meeting from home, said the news was a crushing blow.

"I'm really deflated," Keenan told CBC News after the vote.

"We put a lot of work into this and the community had spoken. The DEC disregarded that. I've never been more disappointed in a governing elected body than I am right now."


'Name is rich in Salisbury education history'

Keenan, a former J.M.A. student who now has children of her own at the school, said residents were not properly consulted about the plans.

She also said her son, who was one of the students who voted on the name change, had told her the students had no idea of the significance of the Armstrong name — and even if they had known about it, "keep the existing name" was not offered as a voting option.

"This name is rich in Salisbury education history and to have this title ripped from this family is terrible," Keenan said.

Keenan said she was astonished that Morton had conceded the process was "ambiguous" and "imperfect," yet it went ahead anyway.

She said she was too disappointed to think about whether the battle to have the name change overturned will continue.

But she did not rule out the possibility.

"I really expected that our own DEC member who represents us would have heard us," she said. "We'll see where it goes from here."

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