Parents and Teachers Unhappy with the Proposed Name Change of North Davis Elementary

Last week it was announced that the district was approached by a community member representing a group of individuals looking to change the name of North Davis Elementary to that of late former principal, Mary Ellen Dolcini.  The item will be on the December 20th agenda.

In a letter from Janice Bridge, a former board member, she wrote: “At the regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday, November 15, during the public comment, we will request the Board place on the agenda of an upcoming board meeting for disucssion and action, a proposal to re-name North Davis elementary School to honor Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini.”

They write, “We believe Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini meets or exceeds all of the criteria…  Re-naming North Davis Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini Elementary School will expand the contribution she made to the Davis educational family by bringing knowledge of her respect for learning, her spriit of inclusiveness, and her unfailing generosity to the students of Davis for decades to come.”

In the meantime, parents and teachers and students having gotten wind of the change, are up in arms.  On Wednesday, the Vanguard met with five teachers on the North Davis Campus – each of them were strongly opposed to the change.

The teachers told the Vanguard the NDE Parents Facebook page did a poll – the results were 129 against the change with only 17 for it.

When the teachers first heard of the proposed change, they originally did not think that much of it.  They figured this was a proposal and it would go through a lengthy process.  Instead, they were stunned to learn how quickly it was moving forward.

“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.”

“It was pretty much a shock to a lot of the teachers,” one of them told me.  “A lot of people felt like she’s a nice woman” and they have nothing against her.  But they would prefer to honor her work in other ways.  They pointed out that she was the principal at North Davis prior to Judy Davis, but that Judy Davis was also worthy of such an honor.

“The district should have an ongoing list of people to honor,” one told me.  “We appreciate everything this woman has done.  It’s nothing against her personally.”

The teacher added, “Everyone I’ve talked to is all in favor of naming a wing or a building.”

Several suggested that since Measure M funds were going to go for a new multipurpose room , that might be an appropriate place to honor Ms. Dolcini.

“Why don’t they name a scholarship after her?” another teacher suggested.

Many complained about the process even more than the change itself.

“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 suggested it is not as simple as changing a sign up front to rename .  “There are such a significant number of things other than just a sign in the front,” they explained.  “Do they have a plan for that?”  one asked pointing out how many different things would need to change.  “It would be really important to know that.”

Beyond these issues, 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.”

Michelle Livingston a parent of a fifth grader who has been at NDE their entire time and a volunteer for the school, said, “I think it’s really surprising that it was being proposed without ever being proposed to the school itself initially.  It was a little bit shocking, actually.”

She said while Ms. Dolcini sounds “amazing,” “I take issue that a community group can just propose to change a school name and it can be done.”

She added, “I think that our kids are very invested in their school and I think it’s just the wrong process for changing the of the school, the kids should probably be educated ahead of time about the person who may then be the namesake.”

Matthew Marsom and his wife are parents of a sixth grader and a second grader at NDE and both are opposed to the name change.

“We don’t think it’s necessary for a number of reasons,” Mr. Marson explained.  Like the others, he cited a question about the process by which this change was proposed.  “It appears the board can make a change without having consulted the school community.   We think that needs to change.”

In this case, “there wasn’t any consultation with the school community.  Many parents heard about this for the first time following the board vote last week.”

“We also think this is an unnecessary change,” he said. “Davis Elementary is a vibrant, strong community.  Many of us love the name and think this is an unnecessary distraction.”

He also made a point that this should not take away from the contributions of Mary Ellen Dolcini to the community or the school.  “It sounds like she was an incredible person,” he said.  “This is in no way a commentary on her.”

In a letter from the PTA signed by the entire board of eight members, they stated, “We feel strongly that directing time or resources to change the name of our school would impose a significant and unnecessary burden on our school community.”

Like others they suggested that the new MPR might be a more appropriate way to honor Ms. Dolcini and further, requested “that the board of Education revise the Bylaw 7310 policy on naming a school to better distinguish the protocol for renaming a school.”

For many teachers this was simply a shock.

A teacher of 19 years explained, “I have a sense of pride that I teach at North Davis, part of that is the name.”  She said, “I would feel sad if that was taken away.”  She added, “It kind of tears your heart out – it’s very emotional”

“I keep reaching back to how it was done, no one reached out to the stakeholders,” she continued. “Most of the people here – they don’t want the name change”

Another teacher said, “You assume they’re going to ask for input from people from the school.”

While that does seem to be happening now, there is already a bitter taste in the mouths of many who have so much invested and feel that this process moved forward without talking about outreach to the PTA, students, or teachers.

The board did not seem that willing to go on the record at this time.  Incoming board president Bob Poppenga would only point out that it is agendized for board discussion on December 20, “with the opportunity to hear comments from the community.”

Alan Fernandes declined to comment at this time.

Another board member said that they had received a number of emails and that the board is still waiting to hear what the financial impact of the name change will be.

District PIO Maria Clayton told the Vanguard, “the Board asked staff to send a request to North Davis Elementary parents and staff to review the information from the advocacy group and to provide the Board with any feedback by emailing”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Jim Hoch

    In other school districts this would be an unthinkable situation. At DJU it’s just par for the course. The culture at the DJU Board of Trustees is secrecy and disdain for parents and staff.

    While DJU does publish the board agendas they do it as a minimum level of compliance with the Brown act. Other school boards have an email listserv with agenda items so that stakeholders are informed. It does not cost anything and reminds people to stay involved. DJU can’t be bothered.

    During a typical board meeting there is the comment period and then Bowes drones on in a monotone for 7-12 minutes while everybody leaves. I believe this is an intentional  strategic droning against public participation (SDAPP) and the intent of his droning is to drive people out.

    1. Alan Miller

      strategic droning against public participation (SDAPP) and the intent of his droning is to drive people out.

      Lordy that is a hilarious observation, though I don’t know the person.  Psychologists really would do society a favor to do an in-depth study of the ways in which people subtly control through public passive-aggressive behaviors.  There is so much of this type of behavior that goes unnoticed . . . kudos to JH for noting this.  And I do believe I’ll be using the SDAPP acronym in the future.

    2. H Jackson

      During a typical board meeting there is the comment period and then Bowes drones on in a monotone for 7-12 minutes while everybody leaves. I believe this is an intentional  strategic droning against public participation (SDAPP) and the intent of his droning is to drive people out.

      There is live video feed of the meetings which is archived very soon afterward.  If you want to follow the meeting later, then you can move the cursor past the points that you want to skip.  You can also time it so as to attend the meeting after Bowes speaks, if his comments bother you.

      1. Jim Hoch

        The question is not whether they bother me, the point is, are they a strategic weapon to drive people out? People leave in droves during his “remarks” and I don’t think it is accidental or incidental. He behaves the way he does purposely to to reduce participation. He has “weaponized” his remarks.

      1. Jim Hoch

        People associated with NDE like the current name and if there needs to be a new name would like one that resonates with current stakeholders. The AAUW seems to play a role in Davis analogous to the DAR in many eastern towns.

        The interesting point is how did a few AAUW convince all five trustees to dispense with written procedure. An unseen hand at work clearly.

        BTW Naming definition: the act of giving a name to someone or something

        Naming and renaming are the same thing, the distinction above is without meaning.

        1. Leslie Rubin

          Please read Jan Bridges editorial correction in the Enterprise. AAUW did not spearhead this event, just provided the forum for a public discussion. Many attempts were made to engage the entire community, including the community of NDE. We understand the frustration of the primary stake holders (students, families and teachers) not being notified, but please do not vilify our organization. We were just hoping to spur discussion.


          AUW Davis’ mission is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. No comparison to the DAR. We are actively engaged in many activities in the community, and value our relationship with parents and students. We think that Dr Dolcini’s legacy exemplifies our values and deserves fair consideration in this process.

        2. Leslie Rubin

          It’s unfortunate that people didn’t take the opportunity back in October to have the discussion we’re having now. There were no “unseen hands at work”, and no one was trying to sneak it past the public. At least it’s being talked about now, and I’m sure the BOE meeting this week will have quite a different tone than the previous two.

          1. David Greenwald

            I think that the district is the one to drop the ball here. They needed to engage the stakeholders prior to this coming to the board and they didn’t do so. I don’t know that it was an attempt to sneak it past the public, but I do think this is a mistake the district has made now several times in the last year.

    1. Alan Miller

      is she not a person of color?

      Is someone going to answer that question, cuz I got no idea . . .

      . . . I’m also a ‘content of their character’ sort of guy, but I thought I’d bait someone into labeling someone else by the color of their skin, just for kicks.

  2. Alan Miller

    . . . and to think these people could have done something good for the community with the time they spent on this.  And I love how everyone is tripping over themselves to point out their opposition to the change isn’t against the person.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pardon, couldn’t type over the yawning attack this issue created for me.

  3. Matt Williams

    This has an eerie similarity to the Gandhi Statue situation.  In that case well-intentioned members of the community moved forward before a broader sense of the community was heard.  Perhaps it is worth slowing this process down so that we don’t have a similar ending where a menaingful portion of the community does not feel they were listened to.

      1. Matt Williams

        John, the issue isn’t focused on “meaningful,” but rather on “does not feel they were listened to.”  The ultimate decision won’t please everyone, but if the process contained a sincere effort to give all factions an opportunity to be heard, then chances are that it was a good process.

        The efforts that Mayor Davis made in the Gandhi Statue situation took what had to that point been an exclusive process and made it inclusive.  Because of Mayor Davis’ efforts all sides of the controversy knew that they had been heard.  There was plenty of anger at the time, and people who had not been angry before Mayor Davis took his inclusive steps became very angry (I know because I got a call after 10:00 pm that Sunday night from one of those people berating me for my support of Mayor Davis’ efforts … as well as other racist sins she believed I personally had committed).  However, despite the in the heat of the battle anger levels, I think 20/20 hindsight tells us that Mayor Davis handles the situation in the right inclusive manner, and as a result the anger levels subsided rather than lingered.

        I believe there is a lesson there for us all as this North Davis Elementary School situation unfolds.

      1. Alan Miller

        is she not a person of color?

        Is someone going to answer that question, cuz I got no idea . . .

        . . . I’m also a ‘content of their character’ sort of guy, but I thought I’d bait someone into labeling someone else by the color of their skin, just for kicks.

        1. Howard P

          Ahhh, Jim, you hit upon one of my favorite issues with Davis… they were so afraid of having a ‘Thirteenth Street” that there isn’t one… same with 666 addresses, and addresses that conflict with Armenian biases and Chinese numerology… you can’t imagine the complaints about addresses that City staff had to deal with over the years!

          Funny, but not “ha-ha” funny…

        2. Jim Hoch

          Howard, I once gave my kids the math problem of determining how many blocks there were from 1st to 14th street. When they gave me the obvious answer we went out and walked it.

          The lesson was supposed to be more about making assumptions than subtraction.

  4. Howard P

    Mary Ellen, her brother, Val, and suspect nephew Matt, would have little to do with this… Val and Mary Ellen, think i knew pretty well… Matt I’ve only met once… Mary Ellen and her little bro’ gave much service to this community, as has Matt…

    I’d like to hear about how the family feels about this (but respect their privacy, if they choose not to)… I suspect that they’d feel that it should be low-key, but respectful… Mary Ellen and Val can’t speak for themselves… not sure why Jan Bridge should speak for them…

    Please respect the family!  The Dolcini family has been huge in Davis… many generations… hope all will respect that…

    1. Howard P

      Reiterating previous opinion… Mary Ellen would acknowledge honors gratefully, humbly, but not seek them.  A wonderful person, to be sure.  Feel privileged to have known her… spouse, even more so… a fellow teacher… who sang songs with her, visited her, went over her memoirs with her… Mary Ellen was/is a great person…

      For those who knew, interacted with her, she is part of who we are. A form of immortality that needs no “naming rights”.  She is missed in the present tense, but we’ll never forget her…

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