Hillside renames two schools to honor local women

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HILLSIDE, NJ — Many people see superheroes in comic books, movies and television shows but fail to recognize the superheroes who live among them in real life. Remembering two influential women who’ve made a difference within the Hillside School District as well as their respective schools, the Hillside Board of Education voted unanimously July 23 to rename two schools in their honor.

As a result, on Aug. 2, Calvin Coolidge School and George Washington School were renamed to honor Deanna Taylor and Ola Edwards, respectively.

According to Hillside Board of Education President Kimberly Cook, the board voted 8-0 for the name changes, with one board member absent due to bereavement.

The obvious question many are asking is why Calvin Coolidge and George Washington schools were renamed. The reason: These two extraordinary women have changed lives within those two schools. Taylor, who was a teacher at Calvin Coolidge, lost her life protecting students, staff and faculty from an assailant, her own ex-husband.

Edwards, a pillar of the community, served the school district for 30 years, as a lunch aide and a custodian. She fostered 10 children, raising them alongside her own son; all 11 children have attended Hillside schools.

As a result, Calvin Coolidge School was renamed Deanna Taylor Academy and George Washington School was renamed Ola Edwards Community School.

“When the thought of changing the schools’ names came up, we had no ideas on what to name them,” Cook said. “Through conversations, the schools’ past came to light. Deanna lost her life leaving the Calvin Coolidge Elementary School with her estranged husband — one can only assume to lure him away from the building to save others inside.”

According to the media release, back in 2003 Taylor led her estranged husband out of the school building — a move that possibly saved the lives of her colleagues but ultimately resulted in her death. Soon after Taylor’s death, the Deanna Taylor Scholarship was created in her memory.

“Deanna’s incident took place after school let out,” Cook said. “However, staff members were in the building, including Principal Ellen Decker. I’m not sure if any after-school programs were in progress at that time.”

Taylor has indeed left a large impact on the school.

“Personally, knowing Deanna, as we both are products of the Hillside School District, she was always genuinely concerned for others,” Cook said. “Deanna loved to teach and help with the students and staff. She had a passion for what she did and a willingness to see others succeed. A scholarship was created in her name so her mission would continue.”

According to the media release, Edwards, a resident of Hillside, dedicated her life to the Hillside schools community and its students.

“Ola Edwards’ name came across the table through a suggestion sent in from her son, Tony Jones,” Cook said. “He shed light on his mother’s dedicated 30 years of service to the Hillside School District as a noneducational support professional. As a lunch aide, Ms. Edwards fed many children with a smiling face, and, yes, I remember Ms. Edwards when I was in school, serving lunch to me at our Walter O. Krumbiegel School.

“Following that time, Ms. Edwards went on to be a custodian for the district,” she continued. “Noneducational support staff are important staples to the everyday functioning of all schools. Most times, they are the first faces to greet many of our students in the morning and the unsung heroes of school districts, who are caring and cleaning up after our wonderful students, and making sure they are safe. The board believes it is time to show our students that everyone is just as important as the other. We all bring something to the table, and we all are worthy in all capacities.”

Cook made note of how Edwards fostered multiple children at a time.

“Ms. Edwards fostered 10 children, who all attended Hillside schools,” Cook said. “This speaks volumes on its own. It takes a welcoming and caring heart. I can attest to that as an adoptive parent myself. I would have to just say she is an example that we all hold important roles in this world. Knowing that and keeping a humble heart can be infectious and can unknowingly make someone’s day.”

Cook stands firm in the renaming of the schools.

“To be honest, when we first started the process to rename the schools, it wasn’t even a thought or a preplanned notion of females,” Cook said. “However, once the names were determined and made public, some questioned, Why women? Well, I said to myself, Hillside is a diverse community. There’s no doubt in my mind now that the names of our schools represent some diversity as well. I stand proud behind the decision to name these two buildings after two amazing women who broke the glass ceiling in our little township of Hillside.

“I hope for continued growth in our community and the ability to know we all are worthy,” she added.

Hillside acting Superintendent of Schools A. Robert Gregory shared Cook’s sentiment.

“I feel honored to work in a community and for a school board that recognizes diversity and inclusion — moreover, has the courage to make bold decisions that reflect the core values and beliefs of our town’s residents,” Gregory said on Aug. 1. “Ordinary people do extraordinary things in classrooms and school buildings across America every day, and women have led the charge in education for centuries. It’s important we recognize their contributions and protect their legacies. There is no better way to honor them than to rename our schools after them, and in place of two commanders in chief.”

According to Gregory, this change will have an impact on future generations within the town.

“Our renaming ceremony marks a new era in the Hillside Public Schools, one that will be remembered as an era of growth and progress,” Gregory said. “When I was a student at Walter O. Krumbiegel School, I had no idea who he was. My friends and I referred to the school as WOK but didn’t know he was an educational leader in Hillside. Sadly, I learned that when I returned as the district’s leader six months ago. We want to ensure that is not the case for our students.

“While Deanna Taylor’s story is tragic, her acts of heroism and life’s work are triumphal,” he continued. “Ola Edwards brought a smile to everyone’s face she worked with throughout her career as a cafeteria worker and custodian in the Hillside Public Schools. She also fostered 10 children, all of whom attended schools in Hillside and, as a result, improved their trajectories. We remain committed to sharing their legacies, so our students recognize every person who plays an integral role in shaping history and improving our town, state and nation.”

Gregory is thrilled to witness this change.

“When historians tell the story of 2020, it most likely will be a somber one, plagued with melancholy and uncertainty,” Gregory said. “I feel like I’m standing on the bright and right side of history with the right people, at the right time. We are bearing witness to a community taking charge of improving its future and ensuring our schools create the next generation of public servants, leaders and innovators who contribute to the vitality of our nation.”