The Clarke County School District will hold a renaming ceremony for Johnnie Lay Burks Elementary School (formerly Chase Street Elementary) on Friday, Nov. 3, beginning at 10 a.m. at the school, 757 North Chase St., Athens. The public is invited to attend.
The event will begin outside with a ribbon-cutting hosted by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, followed by a formal program in the school cafeteria. CCSD Superintendent Dr. Robbie Hooker, Board of Education President Dr. LaKeisha Gantt, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz, and Ms. Burks are scheduled to give remarks.
Earlier this year, the Board of Education voted to rename Chase Street Elementary in honor of Ms. Burks, who integrated the faculty there in September 1966. Signage installation at the school is being completed this week, and the school will officially be referred to as Johnnie Lay Burks Elementary starting Wednesday, Nov. 1.
A native of Barrow County, Ms. Burks graduated from Glenwood High School in Winder as valedictorian and class president in 1958 and attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), where she received a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and Psychology. She began her teaching career at Northside Elementary School in Ila, Madison County and, in 1963, moved to the all-Black East Athens School, where she taught fifth-graders. During her third year there in 1966, she was one of five Black educators whom then-Clarke County School District Superintendent Samuel W. Wood approached about integrating the faculties of five all-white schools in Athens. After initially being assigned to Alps Road Elementary, she began teaching fifth grade at Chase Street Elementary in September 1966.
After her time at Chase Street, Ms. Burks took the next step toward her ultimate career goal of being a counselor by accepting a counselor position at Clarke Middle School and furthered her own education, receiving her masters and education specialist degrees in counseling from the University of Georgia. She would later become chair of the counseling department at CMS for 17 years and was named CCSD’s Counselor of the Year in 1986.
"’Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ Lincoln's Gettysburg Address delivered Nov. 19, 1863, taught to all Bethlehem Elementary students by Principal Grace Lay, was not an empty promise,” said Ms. Burks. “Superintendent Wood hired me to teach in the Clarke County School District 100 years later in August 1963, and now, in November 2023, a school is renamed Johnnie Lay Burks Elementary. The American experiment is still alive and well.”
Cyndee Perdue Moore, Ed.D.
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