About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

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December 2013
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A School By Any Other Name...

As most of you know, the San Carlos School District is proceeding with its plans to build two new 4th-5th grade schools, one on each of the existing middle school campuses. The rennovation of Central Middle School and the new 4-5 school on that campus are the first major projects, and the Draft Environmental Impact Report on that project is currently out for public comment. The final EIR is expected to be brought to the board for approval in February, with construction assumed to start this summer.

In all communications to date, we have been using the names “Arroyo” and “Dartmouth” to describe the new 4-5 schools on the Central and TL campuses, respectively. These have only been working names, simply by using the local street. It was always the intention of the District to have a discussion around naming these new schools. In late October, the board had an initial discussion on this topic and concluded two things. First, the board asked the Superintendent to pull together an ad hoc committee of parents, faculty, and others to discuss the issue of our naming policy. Second, we all agreed that the naming process itself for these two schools should be an inclusive one to gather ideas far and wide from the community, including from staff, parents, and students.

At last night’s board meeting, we received the report from the committee which discussed the naming policy, and we viewed a draft of a policy for first reading. Interestingly, we had a fairly strong consensus among these committee members as well as school board members to have a policy prohibiting the District from naming a school (or other significant school facilities) after any person, living or dead. I was excited to see this, because I believe that naming a major facility (school or otherwise) after a person is actually an exercise in exclusion, not inclusion. Naming schools is a once-in-a-generation opportunity (if even that often), so how do we choose? Everyone involved in public schooling recognizes that it takes thousands and thousands of people to make a school district successful. Who among us would deserve such an honor to have his or her name permanently plastered on the front of the building? If we believe that it really takes a village, there isn’t anyone whose service can stand out over tens of thousands of others. Everyone’s name deserves to be on that door. So, the answer must be that no one’s name be there. And I believe this applies to historical figures as well — how could one objectively judge among a cadre of amazing people in history? If we tried picking either someone local or historical, it would be an exercise in adults picking other favorite adults with our choices likely biased on coincident timing more than anything else.

Notwithstanding our board’s consensus on this overall policy of prohibition around naming facilities after people, we did have an interesting discussion over the concept of “naming rights,” i.e. the idea (however extremely unlikely in our case) that some wealthy benefactor could donate a significant amount of money and hope to have a name on a building. Although we largely agreed we wouldn’t want to “sell” the name of a school itself, we were split on the notion of allowing that for other facilities (e.g. gymnasiums, theaters, libraries, etc.). Personally, I felt that if a donation (from a person or company) were so significant (maybe 7 or 8 figures?) as to create a facility or program that otherwise wouldn’t exist in that form while preserving equity across the district, then we will have served children by accepting such a donation. Of course, this is ripe with issues, including making sure such naming is consistent with our values. But at the end of the day, the discussion is probably academic given the infinitesimal likelihood of our being faced with such a dilemma. We will revisit this section of the policy at an upcoming meeting and try to synthesize board members’ various concerns here.

But the big picture here is the overall consensus on the meat of this policy — it gives us the ability to rise above any political issues and do something truly meaningful when we name our schools. I don’t know what the right names for our new schools are, but I am looking forward to an inclusive process where we bring in students, staff, parents, and other community members to brainstorm ones that are most relevant for us.

1 comment to A School By Any Other Name…

  • Seth

    Update — last night the School Board approved a new facility naming policy. The policy does prohibit the naming of facilities after any person. The board decided not to specifically address the issue of “naming rights,” so there are no specific exceptions listed in the policy. Of course, on the very remote chance that some large donor steps up to help build new facilities, we can always have that discussion then. But in general, I am very excited about this development.