Shortlist of Names for Madison Elementary Announced, Local Residents Among Contenders

Sharon Kokoruda speaks in favor of Noreen M. Kokoruda Elementary School (CT Examiner)


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MADISON — After a month of soliciting suggestions, the district has narrowed a list of potential names for the town’s new elementary school to 15, including those of five former and current residents — Noreen M. Kokoruda, Dr. Donald C. Rankin, Robert Graham Hale, Taffy Bowes and Warner P. Lord.

And on Tuesday, the Ad-Hoc New Elementary School Naming Committee held a public hearing for residents to weigh in on the choices. 

The new school is part of a larger $89 million building and renovation project that residents approved in February 2022. The plan includes the closure of the current Jeffrey and Ryerson elementary schools, the construction of a new elementary school, converting Brown Intermediate School into a K-5 school, and renovating Polson Middle School. 

Several attendees, including Daniel Hand High School teacher and head football coach Eric Becker and Youth and Family Services Director Scott Cochran, spoke in favor of naming the school after Taffy Bowes, a former Madison Youth and Family Services program director for 26 years. She currently works at Grove School.  

Becker noted that Bowes created and directed multiple programs for young people, including Peer Advocacy groups, organizations against domestic violence and drug use, groups for LGBTQ+ and minority students, a women’s empowerment group for female students and Men Who Cook, a group for male high school students who wanted to cook and serve food for a cause. 

“Her loving heart and bright mind and joyful spirit changed the lives of thousands of Madison Public School students. She’s still shining her light at 79 and she’s most deserving,” Becker said. 

Cochran added that Bowes, who he first met when she was his field supervisor in 1989, was a “passionate and joyful learner” and that it was important for female students to have strong role models.

“I can tell you that our recent 2023 high school survey — which is a pretty comprehensive survey — continues to show areas like self-esteem, positive self-image, and safety continue to drop for females in comparison to males,” Cochran said. “We need more and more to provide positive role models for all of our kids and especially our girls, and I feel that it’s an important fact that this committee should consider.” 

Art Simons spoke in favor of naming the school after Bob Hale, a former employee of the State Department of Education who also served for 20 years as a member of the district’s Board of Education. During Hales’ time on the Board of Education, he said, the quality of the schools improved. 

“I’m a retired teacher, so I understand the influence the Board of Education can have on teachers, positive or negatively. And his influence is all positive … as far as I’m concerned. He always did what we thought was best for the students,” Simons said.

Resident Terry Duffy advocated for Warner Lord, who was her principal when she attended Island Avenue Elementary School. Lord worked as an elementary school teacher and principal in Madison until 1989, after which he became a trustee of the Connecticut River Museum and a Madison Land Trust board member, and volunteered with the Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives.

“Warner Lord is the only principal that I can remember. That in itself says a lot,” Duffy said. “Even though he has left the town and lives up in Maine, he is still sending information to us on a weekly to monthly basis … information that he still has up in his head from all the years of living here.”

Resident Bill Cronin favored naming the school after Noreen Kokoruda, who served on the Madison Board of Selectmen for 14 years, the Madison Beach and Recreation Commission for 10 years, and was a state representative for Madison, Durham and Guilford. She also served on the local parent-teacher organization and in athletic booster clubs. Kokoruda died in December 2022. 

“Her work focused on child care. It focused on education. And it focused on an issue now, which was the town reimbursement and the arm wrestling that always occurred between Hartford and the town of Madison,” Cronin said. “She focused her work in the area that was her passion, which was children.”

Members of Kokoruda’s family also spoke in favor of naming the elementary school after the former state representative. 

Several speakers, however, cautioned against naming the school after a political figure, arguing that people could disagree with the choice based on politics.   

But Kokoruda’s daughter-in-law, Sharon Kokoruda, disagreed.

“[Noreen] served the community even before she was an elected official,” Sharon said.  “So I understand people’s feeling about honoring someone that has been elected, but will remind you that elected officials in town, particularly those that are not first selectmen, are not paid people. They spend their time volunteering to work on behalf of everyone in the community, despite people’s differences.”

Riley Kokoruda, Noreen’s granddaughter, said she decided to move back to Madison after graduating in 2018 partly because of her grandmother’s influence on the town. She underscored Noreen’s work on autism and agreed that politics should be separate from the decision on how to name the school. 

“In a time with such controversy and politics and names, I think it’s time that you throw that aside,” she said. “What do they really do for the community? What were they really there for? And I think my grandma went above and beyond in big areas.”

Resident Beth Skudder spoke in favor of Don Rankin, a surgeon and former head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at a Bridgeport hospital, who volunteered with multiple community organizations in Madison, including Friends of Hammonasset, Habitat for Humanity, St. Andrews Church and A Better Chance. A 2015 article in Zip06 referred to him as “Madison’s Renaissance Man.” He died in 2020. 

Two members of the Rankin family, including his wife, Nancy Rankin, also supported his nomination. Laurie Rankin said Don represented diversity, noting his work as a naturalist and teaching Native American customs to the local community. He also co-founded the Native American Festival at Hammonasset State Park. 

“I think Don Rankin really epitomizes sort of a diverse encompassment of all different types of people from all different walks of life. He wasn’t really a politician per se. He really cared about the environment. He cared about the human spirit,” Laurie said.  

Two people also suggested the name Hammonasset Elementary, with resident Cecily Barron saying the name would honor the Native Americans who first lived in the region.

“I like the idea of honoring the people who are faithful stewards of this land on which the school will be built. Indigenous people have largely been overlooked for their contributions and for such honors,” she said.

Resident Lisa Nee said the town should be cautious about naming the school after a person, and that the name Hammonassett would demonstrate to future students that Madison was committed to the environment. 

“I think that showing our values — that we value the environment, that we value that Madison has continued to protect its open spaces, that the Hammonasset State Park is in Madison — that we should show … to the youth of Madison that we value our environment, that we take climate change seriously,” Nee said. 

The committee plans to narrow the list of names to three to five options in January, and the Board of Education will choose the final name in February.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.