Even without the gem-encrusted tiara on her head, Mikayla Stanfield is walking a little taller this year.
The 17-year-old will begin her senior year in Duval County Public Schools next week and she’ll be doing so with the new title of “Ms. Westside High School.” Friday morning, she led members of the press through the halls and gymnasium of her newly-branded school.
“I think the whole school name being changed does show that we do have a voice and that we can be heard and that it’s finally happening,” she said.
The Jacksonville public got its first peek at the renamed and redesigned Westside High School that morning during the high school’s orientation.
The school formerly named for Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest was renamed after the school's students and the Duval County school board voted to change it last year. The board also later approved replacing the school's "Rebel" mascot with the “Wolverine.”
Since then, efforts have been underway to replace signage on the school’s exterior, gymnasium and team uniforms.
Thursday, principal Gregory D. Bostic unveiled the finished product.
“The students, they voted for this,” he said. “They voted on the name change. They voted on the mascot. I’m excited because they’re excited, because a lot times, things are promised to our students and it doesn’t happen.”
Stanfield said initially she was expecting more empty promises. The African-American student said the school name had been a source of shame for much her time at the school.
“A lot of people think ‘Why are you going to a school named after this person? That’s not good. Do you know?’ They would criticize us about it and they would think we were ignorant,” she said.
This year, she feels like a weight was lifted.
“2015, we’re making history,” she said, standing in the renovated gym.
According to the district, the total costs of the changes amount to an estimated $250,000. That’s less than the district’s initial estimates of about $400,000 and later $350,000. However, donations to help the effort remain low by comparison.
So far, the district reports that it has received $2,857 in cash donations. Additionally, several businesses have donated signage and services.
District spokeswoman Tia Ford said those who are interested in donating to the school changes can do so online.
Bostic said the brunt of the costs--about $180,000--will go toward new team uniforms. It’s an expense the school would have eventually incurred with or without the name change, he said, because the school was already in need of new uniforms.
Throughout the hallway and gym, "Forrest" trophies and jerseys remained on display. Bostic said the memorabilia will not go anywhere.
With the new school year, he said he plans to shift the focus away from the controversy and back on the students.
“My main focus is getting these students college-ready,” he said.
The school year begins for the Westside Wolverines and the rest of the district Aug. 18.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.