Weighing community input, utilizing Google documents and discussions about a renaming process highlighted a meeting last week of Burbank Unified’s facilities-naming committee, which is charged with renaming David Starr Jordan Middle School.
The group gathered for only the second time since Burbank Unified’s school board, on the request of the committee, unanimously voted to change the name of David Starr Jordan Middle School in April because of its namesake’s connection to the controversial theory of eugenics.
Although the committee was not formally accepting possible new names, preliminary suggestions included pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart; Hollywood icon Ron Howard and/or his mother Jean Speegle Howard, a Toluca Lake resident and former PTA president; famed horsewoman Bonnie Jean Gray, a Burbank resident; or former Jordan student Christopher Wilke, whose death due to a rare cancer in 2014 galvanized the Burbank community to raise funds for cancer research.
While those ideas were kicked around, committee members continued formulating a formal process to rename the school.
“The question we should be asking ourselves is what name would be a good representation for our students and for Burbank schools,” said Dana Ragle, a committee member and Jordan teacher.
Committee members agreed to seek public input by asking community members to fill out an electronic document or a paper form with a name suggestion.
Jennifer Meglemre, the school’s principal, said one of her students could easily create an accessible Google document, while “stacks of paper could be left in the superintendent’s office” or at Jordan for those without internet access.
As for the form, the committee agreed respondents should include their first and last names, relationship to the school or community, suggested name and a 250-word explanation about why they selected their preferred name.
“There has to be an actual word count because there could be over 100 of these,” said committee member Gerard Panahon. “The amount of time we’re going to put on ourselves is already high.”
No timetable was given regarding when the forms would be available.
The community’s top suggestion, however, may not necessarily reach the school board.
Committee members were close to agreeing on a plan to send their top three to five selections, influenced by the community, to the board for a vote. However, a formal decision on that part of the process was not made.
The arrangement brought relief to former Burroughs High and Jordan teacher Steve Campbell, who questioned the competency of Jordan Middle School students to select a new name.
“I’m very familiar with the thinking processes of that age group and how they band together to try to force some comical issue on us,” he said.
Campbell, who said dropping David Starr Jordan was “perfectly ridiculous,” added, “I would be really very careful about setting on allowing 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds to have a viable voice in making a decision.”
Another unnamed community member suggested a student vote would lead to “Joker Middle School.”
Ragle took issue with the comments.
“They will definitely have a voice since they’re a part of the community,” she said of Jordan students. “As a sixth-grade teacher currently at Jordan, I completely respect my students, and I think they will do an excellent job.”
There was also pushback and skepticism about a board policy, championed by Burbank Unified board members Steve Frintner and Charlene Tabet, passed last year that gave preference to women and minorities in name changes.
“It just specifically surprises me,” Committee member Elena Hubbell said of the policy. “I would hate to lose someone with Burbank connections.”
Prior to David Starr Jordan’s removal, 15 of the city’s 17 comprehensive public schools were named for white males.
“If someone came in with a great name that was male, I don’t think I’d let that board policy sway me that much,” Tabet said. “It’s not a board requirement; it’s a suggestion.”
Burbank resident Monica Lewis added, “I have a little issue with that [policy]. If we’re going to rename the school, it should be open to any person.”
The board bypassed its policy when it named Burbank High’s athletic field after school icons Dave Kemp and Frank Kallem in May.
There will be more discussion about the renaming process during the committee’s next meeting Dec. 4.