A project doesn’t have to cost a lot of money for it to be costly. We are concerned that the Lawrence school board will find this out the hard way as it takes up the issue of renaming the city’s junior high schools.
The city’s four junior high schools — Central, South, Southwest and West — will undergo a major change next school year when ninth-graders move to the high schools and sixth-graders move from the elementary schools to the junior highs. At that point, the schools no longer will be junior highs but rather will be middle schools. Earlier this month school board members decided to add to the changes by considering new names for all the junior high schools. The board agreed on a 4-3 vote to move forward — not the best indicator of a smooth process to come.
At Monday’s meeting, the board is set to form naming committees for each school. We would suggest instead that the board reconsider the entire idea.
The Lawrence school district, like districts across the state, faces serious challenges. School funding will be a dicey topic in the state Legislature. The issue of faculty pay and retention is an ever-present concern. And a critical discussion regarding neighborhood schools and how to best provide a quality education in an efficient manner must be had.
During this important time, a majority of the board proposes to have a conversation about whether simple words such as Central, South, West and Southwest strike the right chord. The process sets up possible debates about whether this “famous Lawrencian” deserves recognition over that famous Lawrencian. We will disagree over the history and meaning of the current names and likely open up old wounds in the process. And to top it off, many residents who don’t have children in the schools will become mighty confused.
For many, this naming exercise sounds a bit like a fiddle playing amid a burning Rome. For the more cynical, it may bring to mind the scene of a magician asking you to look over here while the trick is actually performed over there.
It would be a shame if the Lawrence school district spends one of its most valuable assets — the energy and engagement of the public — on this issue. That is the true cost of this proposal: The spending of public goodwill.
School names are important, and perhaps at some future time the board should take up the issue. But for now, the board should ask itself the age old question: What’s in a name? In this case the answer is clear: The potential for a needless fight.