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Former students look to rename James Madison Memorial High School after Darlene M. Hancock


The late Darlene Hancock was the first African-American female principal for the Madison Metropolitan School District, a champion for education, an advocate for all children and a leader in the Madison community for decades. Now, some of her former students are hoping that when James Madison Memorial High School is renamed, it will be after her.

“There have been so many great candidates that have been brought forward for the potential renaming of Madison Memorial High School, but the reason why Mrs. Hancock should be in consideration, too, is that she didn’t just walk the walk, she talked the talk in terms of education and providing opportunities for children that extended well beyond her days as principal and are still affecting the lives of young people everywhere,” Anthony Brown Jr. tells Madison365.

“She was so involved, and not just in the schools. She was a powerful community member at large,” he adds. “And being the first Black female principal in Madison, a school should have been named after Darlene Hancock a long time ago … while she was alive.”

Brown, Chief Operating Officer at Montana Area Music Association, and Emily Foster Hill, a Madison-area educator who works for FIELD Edventures, a statewide environmental education network, were classmates at Glenn W. Stephens during Mrs. Hancock’s time as principal and she really made an impact on their young lives. Foster Hill has started a petition proposing the renaming of James Madison Memorial High School in honor of the late Mrs. Darlene M. Hancock, who passed away in 2012.

“Throughout her dedicated and heartfelt impact on the Madison community, Mrs. Hancock always had a heart for the children she served, and was dedicated to their education and to helping each child have a stronger sense of self,” the petition states.

During the MMSD school board on March 22, a proposal was announced to rename James Madison Memorial High School after civil rights hero Vel Phillips. Per school board policy, the public has a minimum 30-day window to comment on the recommendations and can submit additional proposals until Friday, April 23.

Hancock was valedictorian of her senior high school class in Oklahoma City, OK. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Langston University and was the first African-American to receive her master’s degree in education administration from the University of Central Oklahoma. She met Allen Hancock while in college and they were married in 1950.

Hancock held teaching positions in Oklahoma City and Michigan City, Ind., before moving to Madison in July of 1974, where she was appointed grade level principal of Memorial High School. She later became assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School, before becoming 10th-grade principal at Madison East High School. In 1983, she became Principal at Glenn W. Stephens Elementary School.

“I’ve been learning so much about the history of Darlene Hancock through this process. As an educator myself, it’s inspiring to share all of this information about her with other Madisonians,” Foster Hill says.

Hancock was a member of Kappa Psi Omega Chapter – Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and also a charter member of the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of Links, Inc. and organized the Links’ first Student Achievement Award Services for minority students which continues to grow each year.

“She was physically a very small woman, but she was mighty,” Brown says. “You felt that presence that everybody was loved.”

Hancock was honored with the YWCA Racial Justice Award in 1993 and received an award for exemplary performance and contribution from The Wisconsin Minority Women’s Network Inc. She also received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Heritage Award, and the 100 Black Men’s Outstanding Educator Award for service. In 2009, Hancock was honored with The Reverend James C. Wright Human Rights Award.

Hancock established the Allen A. Hancock Fellowship Hall at S. S. Morris Community Church that was dedicated in December of 2010 and opened in January 2011. The Instructional Resource Center Tutoring Program was established that helps to tutor minority children of all ages.

“Our goal with this petition is to reach as many people as we can to gather more signatures and basically the wording of the petition itself will be the bulk of the letter,” Foster Hill says. “We will add all of the signatures we collect and submit everything online to MMSD on Friday.

“Our other goal right now is to just bring as much attention as we can to the life and the legacy of Darlene Hancock,” she adds. “As an educator, she has been such an inspiration to me and I just have so much respect for her and everything she did in the Madison community.”