On Thursday night, the meeting going late into the evening, but the board got out in front of the issue and stated at onset that they would not be changing the name of North Davis Elementary to honor Mary Ellen Dolcini. Instead, Alan Fernandes made a motion supported ultimately by all of his colleagues to create an ad hoc committee to figure out an appropriate way to honor the legacy of Dr. Dolcini.
“We nearly made a mistake as a board in our last meeting,” Mr. Fernandes acknowledged. “The mistake was just not remembering how important process was.”
“We strive to move at the speed of trust,” he said echoing the words of former Superintendent Winfred Roberson. “When we have a policy as a district and we move forward, even though our own policy doesn’t require its use, I think there is an expectation that the we policies that we have are there for a reason.”
He said, “I think we got excited and fed off the enormous energy that exist behind the movement to honor Mary Ellen Dolicini.”
Alan Fernandes said it was only when they asked the principal about outreach efforts, that they learned that while there was active and vocal support behind the name change, that they had not engaged with the current stakeholders at the school.
He said “That wasn’t the same as the process that is not only required in our policy, but what is what we strive to do in our schools, which is inclusiveness and ensuring that all voices are heard.”
“I’m proud to say, believe it or not, that we didn’t completely rush to judgement in that we sort of hit the pause button,” he said.
The public widely learned of plans to possibly rename the school at the December 6 meeting. Pushback started immediately on places like Facebook and NextDoor where polls were taken that showed an overwhelming number – in excess of 90 percent of current students, parents and teachers opposed the change.
Board member Tom Adams said, “At least we had enough smarts to say lets make sure its on the consent calendar.” He said, “There was good sense in that we had that pause button, but there is a reason why there is a process expressed in our bylaws.”
Joe DiNunzio said, “I’ve been pretty clear on the need for openness and transparency in any process that we go through. Particularly something that is as critical as changing the name of the school.”
He said while it’s great that the community has commented, “I just think it’s a pretty inefficient way to get those comments.”
Cindy Pickett noted that while it’s great that you have someone in the community that has made amazing contributions, that you feel should be honored.
“Another part is what is the benefit to current, past or future students,” she said. “If we end up having a committee I think we should be very clear in our mind about what we’re trying to do – is it simply to honor a person or is it to build community and convey identity?”
She noted, “I’m very sensitive to the notion that there are voices in this community that haven’t been heard (and) there may be other people who should be honored.”
Newly installed Board President Bob Poppenga added, “It’s clear she had a significant effect on the Davis community.” He said that she was one of those great educators and “I believe that honoring her significant contributions is appropriate.”
He said this is sometimes difficult to do in public. The first time it came to them was November 6 and I admit, “I got out over my skis and I appreciate Alan pulling us back as a group.”
During public comment 19 people in all spoke including community members, parents and a number of students. Of the speakers, 14 of the 19 wanted to name to remain as it was.
Janice Bridge, the former board member, who led the push for a name change told the Board, “We believe that Dr. Dolcini’s legacy is being lost.” She said, “Whenever the teachers or the parents talk about North Davis, they’ll talk about the unique character of the school or the excellent curriculum, but before very long they’re talking about dolphins, the wonderful school song, and a particularly nostalgic clapping out ceremony.”
“These things did not begin because the school was named North,” she said. “These things began with the work, guidance, the leadership of Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini.”
Ms. Bridge noted that in 1978, Dr. Dolcini was Associate Superintendent and applied to the open Superintendent position. That position went to another person even though in Ms. Bridge’s opinion, she was most qualified, “because no woman could be superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District.”
“Despite a number of people telling her to be quiet and go home, she decided to persevere. She appealed to the federal courts. All of her appeals were upheld by the courts. The court recommended that she reach an agreement with the district – the agreement was negotiated. The non-disclosure agreement was signed. She was told she could have any job in the district except superintendent. Dr. Dolcini chose North Davis.”
Later during public comment, a group of teachers stood to read a letter signed by over 40 members of the current faculty.
Karen Fingerman, a teacher at North Davis elementary, read on behalf of the group. “We feel strongly that the long-standing name of North Davis should not be changed,” she read. “Every day we’re working diligently to build a school community where everyone belongs and we all feel that opinions matter.”
“Abruptly renaming our school based on the opinion of one group of people does not support this effort,” she said. While they respect and honor Dr. Dolcini, she explained, “The North Davis name is incredibly sentimental to us and it represents a community that goes beyond one person.”
“Our name is a significant part of the identity of our school,” she said. “It is as important to use as Holmes, Emerson or Korematsu.”
Another parent read the results of a poll with 533 responses – 492 of them opposing the name change.
Alan Fernandes later pointed out that, “This is the discussion and debate that the adults have.” At the same time, he pointed out, “We forget about the students sometimes” noting that there are no schools named for former students. He said, “We’ve heard pretty clearly from a number of the students on this.”
The board was unanimous in the idea that Mary Ellen Dolcini should be honored, the question would be to looking into how that would occur. Even setting up the committee to look into this, it was clear that the name change is not going to occur.
The board was hopeful that there could be a report by June on how to proceed from here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting