John Warner Middle School Breaks New Ground

The newest CPS building, coming 2020, will be named after late DARE officer

 

As of the writing of this article, there are six middle schools in Columbia. By this time next year, though, a new seventh middle school will have been fully open since August. The school itself was approved for construction due to the current severe overcrowding at Gentry Middle, which was described as Superintendent Stiepleman as trying to fit “950 kids at [a] school that was built for 650.” 

This future school, designed to be avant garde and modern-looking in comparison to the existing middle schools which were erected in the ‘70s, is being built to help ease student traffic and share the wealth on school resources. As far as school districts go, this school will taking kids from Mill Creek Elementary and sending them off to Rock Bridge High School. A principal has already been chosen, their website is up and running at https://www.cpsk12.org/Page/16664, and their mascot will be whatever receives the most votes from soon-to-be students.

However, that’s not why the school has been making local headlines for months.

On August 4th of this year, a devoted CPS employee passed away, leaving a legacy of safety and security in his wake. His name was John Warner, and the work he did as a school resource officer, a DARE educator, and all around involved community member resulted in the new school getting named after him. 

It was a bit of a process, according to the school board, as they opened up submissions for name suggestions and received 157 total entries, but had to narrow it down to just 62 after determining which ones actually fulfilled the criteria for a school name. Then, after more voting and some community input, the board settled on naming the school to commemorate Officer John Warner. The motion passed three months after his death on November 11th.

Warner was remembered very fondly, with glowing reviews from elementary school teachers and the current chief of police alike. 

“He was a teacher first and officer second,” Jimmy Hale, the new middle school’s principal-to-be said of Warner. Warner was the one who pioneered the DARE program in Columbia’s public schools, and that program along with his personal expertise, as current Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones put it, “taught kids how to be good citizens.” 

His work in public schools was extensive, serving in the CPS system for 27 years, 20 of which were also spent working as a DARE officer. His time and effort as a DARE officer, before the program was cut, was well recognized within the community, and he liked to organize the DARE “graduations,” which were hosted for kids once they had finished the program. According to Fairview Elementary School teacher Reneé Wilcoxson, as reported in a Missourian article about Warner, he never made it through one of these graduations without tearing up. “Inside, he was just a big teddy bear,” Wilcoxson said, adding that Warner was very good at connecting with the kids he worked with, because he was approachable, friendly and projected that he was on their side.

The new John Warner Middle School will open in August 2020, just in time for the new school year, and the first anniversary of John Warner’s passing at age 61.