‘Today is a great day’: Dedication of school honors late Troup County educator Ethel Kight
LaGRANGE — Former students, current education officials and even some new students packed the cafeteria of Ethel W. Kight Elementary School — the only part of the re-built school that remained from the previous building — on Sunday to honor the teacher after whom the school is named.
Albert Gilliam, a former student of Ethel Kight who recently led a committee to create a memorial of Kight outside the new school building, said he hopes the students at the new school feel the same sense of excitement that he did when he first walked into the original Ethel Kight school in 1956.
“Today is a great day,” said Gilliam. “This is the dedication of the newest, state-of-the-art school in Troup County, the Ethel W. Kight Elementary School.”
He said the original school was a state-of-the-art facility at the time, and now for students at the school, there are amenities like interactive boards and computers for them to take advantage of. In his day, having TVs in classrooms and central heat and air was state of the art, he said to laughter from older members of the crowd as he also noted many students didn’t have those at home in 1956.
Gilliam asked students and staff to do their best to honor the legacy of “Miss Kight” and noted that, as in their school song, her spirit lives on through eternity.
Kight started with Troup County schools as its first and only Jeanes supervisor — part of the nationwide Jeanes Foundation program that helped fund education for black schools — according to a biography written by Troup County Historian Clark Johnson. She held the position until integration in 1970. From 1970 until her retirement in 1977, she was curriculum director for the school system, according to Johnson’s biography. She passed away in 1990.
Board of Education vice chairman Allen Simpson spoke about the importance of the school being named after the beloved educator.
“I’m sure she would walk down the hall just to see what the Lord has done,” he said to attendees at Sunday’s dedication for the new school. “Isn’t this a fine facility?”
Simpson spoke about some of the history of the school, noting that the original building constructed at the site in 1952 was Mount Beulah Elementary and High School. In 1956, a petition led to the name change to Ethel W. Kight Elementary and High School.
After integration, the school switched to a junior high school and its name was changed, despite protest, to Troup Junior High School, according to Johnson’s biography. It was changed in 1986 to Lee’s Crossing Middle School, which it remained until it was again named for Kight in 1996.
“There are many who made this dedication today possible,” said Cole Pugh, Troup County School System superintendent, as he recognized Board of Education members and other local elected officials, along with TCSS staff and contract workers who were directly involved in construction of the new building.
He also thanked the school staff who moved among schools while the building was completed and voters for supporting the education special-purpose, local-option sales tax, or E-SPLOST, that paid for the construction of the school. Pugh also recognized the Ethel W. Kight memorial committee that came together to create the brick memorial outside the school.
“There are those of us who are here today to say thank you to this legend for her legacy, the icon that is the lovable woman that she is, Miss Kight,” said former student Bettye Patterson to attendees.
During the dedication, memorial committee members presented a drawing of the original Ethel W. Kight school to be displayed in the new building, so students will see the original facility when arriving for classes.
Gilliam noted that the brick memorial created by the Ethel W. Kight memorial committee wasn’t “quite complete,” and presented a memorial brick featuring the name of current school principal Candace McGhee, which will be placed among the names of school alumni on the memorial.
Gilliam also recognized Oliver Green and his wife, former art teacher Annie Green, for presenting a petition to the school system to name the school after Ethel Kight in 1956. The couple received enthusiastic applause from the audience.
“I’m so very proud to stand here today as one of Mrs. Ethel W. Kight’s family members,” said Carl Von Epps, who is a nephew of Kight and a former state representative. “… She lived her life by what she did.”
Kight taught her student the importance of self-respect and respect for one another, Epps said. He said it was important for residents to continue the pursuit of education promoted by Kight for so many years. He also praised her humanitarian efforts and work through churches.
Epps said he imagined that if Kight were still around, she would encourage Troup County to focus on the basics of teaching reading and writing, and not only test scores. He said Kight’s priorities were always the instruction of the children.
“We say thank you for carrying the torch,” Epps said to teachers and staff of the school, and then addressed others who helped create the new school. “Thank you for her legacy, thank you for the governance of the community, for building and rebuilding this building in honor of Ethel W. Kight.”