Rocktown prevails as new high school’s identity takes shape

A drone shot from above the new high school’s construction site in south Harrisonburg shows the progress in early April 2022. (Courtesy of Harrisonburg City Public Schools)

By Bridget Manley, publisher

In the end, it seems, it was always going to be Rocktown High School. 

The Harrisonburg City School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to select Rocktown High School as the name of the city’s new high school —with school colors of black and red. The new school’s identity will be completed once the board signs off on a mascot later. 

Vice-Chair Deb Fitzgerald said after hearing from the community the popularity of Rocktown High, she decided to throw her support behind the name.

“I don’t see any really big, strong push in the community for anything other than Rocktown,” Fitzgerald said. 

The vote came after a discussion by the board about the multiple surveys, information sessions and other outreach school officials conducted to find out what public opinion was, and after a public comment period in which no one commented. 

But the community had spoken out during this year’s naming process for the name “Rocktown High School.”

The board had a spent the better part of 2022 tasking the naming committee they formed with conducting the public outreach and collecting names for recommendation. And while the naming committee ultimately decided to recommend the name South Ridge to the board, they reported that the most overwhelmingly popular name that had been submitted was Rocktown High. 

On Tuesday, Board members Andy Kohen, Kristen Loflin and Kaylene Seigle all threw their support behind Rocktown, saying they had all heard from community members that Rocktown was their top choice.

Board member Obie Hill said that while Valley View was his first choice, he would ultimately support Rocktown High School as well. 

The board members decided to table the discussion of a mascot. At the board’s previous work session, the idea of “The Thunder” as the mascot was floated and liked by many board members.

However, after the work session, school officials asked students in the district to offer their input on what they wanted for the new school. While students were split – but ultimately liked – the names Valley View High and Rocktown High, they were solidly opposed to “thunder” being the mascot.

Board members said according to student surveys, the two main threads from students were that the new high school should have its own identity from the existing Harrisonburg High School and that it would be too hard to “draw a sound.”

Board members thought the idea of “Thunder” would complement the current high schools’ “Blue Streaks” lightning mascot.

The board also voted unanimously on the colors red and black, even though they do not yet have a mascot. The colors needed to be chosen quickly, according to the board’s chair, Nick Swayne, because construction is moving quickly and the builders will need to integrate the school colors into the design.

The school, which is under construction off South Main Street and is expected to open for fall 2024, has a second floor of poured concrete, and the cafeteria, athletic fields, and wings are under construction.

The Board will hold a “topping out” ceremony — rain or shine — at the new school’s site this Friday.  Members of the community are invited to come and sign the last steel beam, which will be put in place during the ceremony, weather-pending. 

Swayne addressed and thanked members of “For HHS2” — the group of parents who lobbied the board and city council for the new high school — and members of the naming committee for their work. The vote was met by audience applause.

During the meeting Tuesday night, the board also recognized multiple groups of employees including teachers, the school lunch staffs, and school nurses. 

Teacher Appreciation Week runs this week, and city schools will be participating in both School Lunch Hero Day and School Nurse Day on Friday. 

The school board recognizes city school nurses during the May 3 meeting. (Photo by Bridget Manley)

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