If the early returns at South Junior High School are any indication, the Lawrence school district’s pursuit of new names for its four soon-to-be middle schools could be rather brief.
“We had a vote as to who would like to have the name changed, or stay Lawrence South Middle School,” said Will Fernandez, in his sixth year as principal at South, 2734 La. “The teachers all say they want to stay the same: Lawrence South Middle School. … And we’ve had several teachers just do an informal poll in their classrooms, and they’ve all come back the same: They all want to stay with South. …
“There’s a sense of pride and tradition: Don’t change it.”
Such preliminary voting will be expected to move into formal election cycles beginning today, when members of the Lawrence school board consider appointing members to naming committees for each junior high school: Central, South, Southwest and West.
On Jan. 13, four board members — Mary Loveland, Marlene Merrill, Rich Minder and Vanessa Sanburn — voted to pursue new names for the schools, which are set to become middle schools July 1. The schools will have grades 6 through 8, instead of the current 7 through 9.
To help guide their decisions about the schools’ names entering the new academic year, the four board members agreed to seek input from the school communities themselves. Those communities, represented by the committees, will be expected either to suggest new names or support maintaining the existing ones — with the only certainty that “junior high” be replaced by “middle” in each school’s name.
While Fernandez puts the chances of recommending a replacement name for South at “slim, very slim,” other principals are holding back their thoughts until the committees get a chance to meet.
One thing everyone can agree on: Committee members first must decide whether they want to retain the existing name or pursue a new one.
“That’s first,” said Trish Bransky, principal at Southwest, 2511 Inverness Drive, since the building opened in 1995-96. “At that point they’ll decide to move forward or not.”
The proposed committee for West, 2700 Harvard Road, would have six people: two parents, two teachers and two students. But Myron Melton, in his eighth year as principal, would expect them to gather plenty of input from their friends, colleagues and fellow students.
West opened 50 years ago, and boasts a matter-of-fact motto that’s been celebrated for decades: West is Best.
“There’s a lot of tradition that goes into a name,” Melton said. “But I think you’ll have people say, ‘We’re going into a whole new era, we need a whole new name.’ It’s hard to predict. I don’t know which way it will go.”
Anna Stubblefield, in her third year at Central, already knows at least one name that will be considered by Central’s naming committee: Liberty Memorial Middle School, which would go back to the heart of the name that’s actually inscribed on the front of the school building at 1400 Mass., the former Liberty Memorial High School.
Stubblefield, who acknowledges that she’s “not interested in changing just for change’s sake,” plans to be open to the anticipated dialogue at the committee level.
“We’ll see where everybody’s opinions lie,” she said. “Is this something we want to spend time on? If so, it’s obviously something that will be very time-consuming.”
Fernandez isn’t worried. If board members appoint the committees as expected tonight, he plans to distribute surveys to all 585 students Tuesday afternoon.
Each single sheet of paper will have but one question: Do you want the school to remain Lawrence South Middle School, or would you like a name change?
“Two boxes,” he said. “Pick one.”
Each committee would be expected to forward its recommendations to the school board sometime around spring break.