After a week of pushback, the school board tonight after installing newly elected board members Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio will take on a heated issue of whether to rename North Davis Elementary school after long-time principal Mary Ellen Dolcini.
The Vanguard met with and spoke to a number of parents and teachers who were disturbed at the lack of outreach to the current stakeholders at the school.
“There was a lack of awareness about how quickly this is going to move,” a teacher explained. They saw it is “they’re talking about it” not “They are going to do it next week.”
“There has to be a better process,” one said. “They have a process for naming schools, but they don’t have a process for re-naming schools.”
The teachers felt like they already have a thriving community under the name of North Davis Elementary or NDE. “We’re North Davis – we are proud of being here,” one of the teachers explained. “Your name is part of your identity.”
“There’s an emotional attachment,” the 5th grade teacher said. “It just seems like this community is so much more than naming this after one person.”
The proposal was put forward by former board member Jan Bridge. She told the local paper, “We met with (school district superintendent) Bowes in July, with Board President Adams in August and with North Davis principal Sarah Roseen in September. As a group of people with no standing with the District we could not invite ourselves to the school and no one from the school invited us to come to make a presentation.”
In a letter she explained that there were a number of opportunities between October 20 and December 5 by which community as well as parents and teachers at North Davis Elementary would have become informed about this process.
She wrote, “In light of not a single question being asked or comment of opposition after three months of opportunity to understand the proposal, I urged the board to take the action they did — to approve the renaming of the school effective at the beginning of the school year 2019-20.”
However, she wrote: “All of this said, it is not right nor fair that parents of elementary school children be asked to attend a school board meeting on the night before the last day of school before winter break.
“There is a provision in the board policies that will allow the board to postpone an item on an announced agenda to a certain date. I have emailed the board and requested that they invoke the policy and delay the discussion until a board meeting in January.”
An editorial from the Davis Enterprise urged the district to give the school community a chance to weigh in.
“The push to rename NDE has been too rushed and opaque,” they write. “In their eagerness to honor their friend and colleague, Dolcini’s admirers proceeded without including in the process the current students, parents and staff at North Davis, which is the school they wish to rechristen in her memory.”
They too argue that having this discussion right before the winter break is inappropriate and that “Any decision should be postponed until after the vacations have ended and some real outreach has been done to bring North Davis parents, students and staff on board.”
In a thoughtful commentary, Bob Dunning spoke of his friendship and admiration for Ms. Dolcini. He called her “not only a great educator, but a great humanitarian.”
He pointed out that everyone involved agrees “that Mary Ellen Dolcini’s remarkable legacy in Davis deserves to be honored.” Where we differ, he says, “is on the process, or lack of same, that led us to the potential approval of a name change at this coming Thursday’s board meeting.”
There is also disagreement “on whether changing a longstanding school name is the appropriate way to honor Mary Ellen’s memory and service.”
Initially, he was pleased with the proposal, but said, “I hadn’t anticipated the very valid concerns many current and former NDE students and teachers and parents would have over removing the name of a school they so cherished and closely identified with.
“I should have known better, because I had those very same feelings myself when my long-ago grade school, West Davis Elementary, had its name dropped in favor of César Chávez.”
The key point he raises: “By an overwhelming margin, current members of the NDE school community, from teachers to parents to students, feel they were left out of this process, as if their opinion on the matter doesn’t count.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting