Not every school board member gets to help decide the name of a new school, but those who do leave a legacy behind.
While budget and curriculum issues are certainly important, choosing the name of a new school building carries some infinite weight.
Tonight, the Richland School Board is scheduled to select the name for its newest middle school. And while this is an exciting decision, it is being made under an unfortunate cloud.
Richland school officials did their best to make the process as open as possible, but the policy setting the parameters for the new name has been criticized as too limiting.
Perhaps it is.
But school districts have a history of making sure new schools are given names that will endure and that have significance to the community.
Without guidelines, the number of choices suggested could be too much for a volunteer committee to manage.
According to Richland School District policy, new schools must be named after geographic characteristics of the area where the new school will be located or after “deceased persons who have achieved local or national stature resulting from enduring contributions in the fields of education, arts and sciences, historical significance to the region, military achievements and statesmanship.”
The Kennewick School District has a similar school-naming policy in place, but it also includes the options of naming schools after other “important events or achievements.”
In Pasco, the policy states that the school board will “provide specific guidelines” to the committee in charge of creating the list of three to five choices.
The last time the Pasco School Board named new schools, it decided to name them after scientists because all three were STEM elementary schools.
The Pasco School District also has a history of naming all its elementary schools after people, so the school board decided to be consistent.
That makes sense.
In Richland, 102 suggestions were submitted to the school committee for consideration, even with the restrictions in place.
The committee narrowed the choices and the community used an online rating system to pick a favorite.
Those that made the cut include Leona Marshall Libby, a physicist, and Frank Mathias, a colonel with the Army Corps of Engineers. Both made significant contributions at Hanford during World War II.
Red Mountain is another choice, as is J. Harlen Bretz, a geologist who hypothesized about the Ice Age floods that shaped the geology of the region.
Trisha Snow, a member of the school’s core team, said the committee did the best it could under the district policy, but she heard from many parents and students who were not happy with the final list.
That could happen no matter what the guidelines say.
For now, it looks like school officials have chosen to stick with the policy that has worked in the past and go from there. We think that is reasonable. It would be too challenging to start over.
And it is too difficult to please everyone, anyway.
In the future, perhaps Richland school officials will want to broaden the school-naming policy. But for now, we hope the community can get past any disappointment and honor the process.