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Leodis V. McDaniel, Lincoln High graduate and former Madison principal, is new namesake of Portland high school

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Leodis V. McDaniel at Madison High School, where he served as principal in the late 1980s. The school was renamed after McDaniel.For the second time this year, a Portland high school has been renamed to honor a notable African American.

The Portland Public Schools Board unanimously approved renaming James Madison High School Leodis V. McDaniel High School. McDaniel was a former Portland high school principal who attended Buckman Elementary, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1953 and later served as principal at Madison during the 1980s. He attended school before desegregation became a federal mandate, and went on to become one of only a few Black principals in Oregon during that era.

A renaming committee comprised of students, staff and community members brought the recommended name change to the board Tuesday, Feb, 23, for consideration. The committee received more than 2,500 responses to surveys and more than 400 different recommendations for new names.

Adam Skyles, principal of the renamed high school, said finding a new namesake has been in the works for the past two years, but the past year has underscored the need to redefine the school's identity.COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Leodis V. McDaniel is the new namesake for the former Madison High School in Portland. McDaniel previously served as principal of the school.

"This past year we have witnessed tragic events continuing to impact Black, brown and Native communities, as well as the LGBTQ+ community," Skyles said. "These events reinforced the need to be intentional as we work toward dismantling inequities that have existed for generations in the United States."

Skyles said the new name better reflects the school community and its values.

"We are hopeful that this opportunity will enable us to come together and focus on our strengths and aspirations and how we can best support our students and families. Our new name is only a pillar to a foundation of making sure the places our students learn and play are reflective and welcoming," he said.

Members of the renaming committee said McDaniel stuck out as a local figure who was "well-loved and highly celebrated" during his leadership position in Portland Public Schools.

"Having my school named after someone who I feel represents me and my peers is extremely meaningful and validating, especially after years of having a name with the opposite message," said Athene Marston, a McDaniel High School student and renaming committee member. "We wanted our new name to embody our school's C.R.E.E.D. values of community, respect, education, equity and diversity, and that perpetuate anti-racist convictions."

A committee presentation described McDaniel as "wildly popular with students and staff" while noting his numerous accolades from community organizations to which he contributed.

The school's name isn't the only thing getting revamped. The McDaniel campus has been undergoing a remodel, leaving students to attend school at the Marshall High School campus before school sites closed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next year, the remodeled school will reopen to students.

"It is meaningful that they will be entering a modernized building that is the first of our high schools to be named for a local hero, a Black Portlander who dedicated his life to public education," Guadalupe Guerrero, superintendent of PPS, stated in a district announcement sent out Tuesday.

School board members said they were eager to approve the change.

"I just wanted to acknowledge what's happening in our city and I think it is — as somebody who grew up here, surrounded by monuments to past leaders of the community — it's so heartening to see all the changes that are happening," school board Director Julia Brim-Edwards said. She read a letter from a former student who attended while McDaniel was principal. The letter thanked the board and noted how loved McDaniel was during his tenure. When he died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1987, his students walked out of school to be able to attend his memorial service after the school wouldn't release them early, Brim-Edwards said, reading from the former student's letter.

Madison High is the second PPS school to be renamed this year. In January, the school board approved changing the name of Woodrow Wilson High School to Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, signaling the district's desire to move away from namesakes that conjure up racist history.

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