A new school steeped in history

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Students, staff, parents and community members celebrated the opening of one of CMS' newest schools, Lawrence Orr Elementary, at a dedication on Sept. 25. Nearly 60 of Orr's family members were also in attendance.

The school is named after Lawrence Orr who was active in the African-American community of Crab Orchard, now called Hickory Grove. According to his descendants, Lawrence Orr was born May 14, 1883, the seventh child of Alexander and Alice Orr, former slaves. Orr's immediate family members worked the land on which Lawrence Orr Elementary now sits.

"I grew up listening to stories about my great-grandfather's hard work and perseverance," said Anthony Huntly, Orr's great–grandson. "It is awesome to see his dreams coming to fruition."

Orr encouraged his friends and neighbors to buy land. He advocated for home ownership and the right to vote. He also supported education for his community. He led a group of men in petitioning the school board to build four schools in this area and elsewhere. His efforts paid off in the 1930s when the area received four new schools. One survives today as J.H. Gunn.​

Superintendent Ann Clark said, "Opening a new school is always a special occasion. But this school brings some very special history that calls for reflection regarding the extraordinary legacy of leadership of Lawrence Orr on behalf of the education of every child."

The school's dedication program also included remarks from Mary McCray, chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and Principal Kimberly Vaught. ​

"On this day, 69 years ago, Lawrence Orr crossed from this world to the next. He left a legacy that continues to this day," said Vaught. "We gather to celebrate, honor and lift up the great work he began. It is more than a dedication of brick and mortar; it's a promise that we will prepare our students to be high achievers."

The ceremony also featured a tribute video to Orr's legacy, a musical selection sung by representatives of the fifth-grade class, a ribbon-cutting and a school tour.

"Today we honor the past as we build the future for a new generation of students," said McCray. "I want the students to uphold his legacy and use the power of public education to be successful."

The school was built with funds from the 2007 bonds. The 109,873 square-foot facility is a 55-classroom building intended to relieve overcrowding at Hickory Grove Elementary. Classrooms throughout the building have been outfitted with technology tools, including a projector and speaker system in each classroom, Apple TVs, iPads and Chromebooks.

Click here​ to view the Lawrence Orr Elementary photo gallery.