Whether it’s honoring local pioneer families, or simply giving a school the name of the subdivision where it’s located, school districts pull from a variety of sources to name their schools.
The Chandler Unified School District recently named its newest school in Gilbert, Haley Knutsen Elementary School, in honor of a 9-year-old student who died in September 2005 following a seven-year battle with leukemia.
The school will open next year in the Layton Lakes community.
The Higley Unified School District named its newest elementary school Centennial Elementary since the school will open during the district’s 100-year anniversary.
The school, which is under construction and planned to open in 2009, is the second school in the Power Ranch subdivision in Gilbert.
Other schools are named strictly for their purpose, such as the Gilbert Classical Academy in the Gilbert Unified School District, and the Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies the Mesa Unified School District, both of which opened this year.
Many school districts cull their naming practices from tradition and history and don’t really have any written policies. Usually, the district’s board has the final say.
MUNDANE IN GILBERT
Subdivision names and street names tend to be the norm for naming schools in the Gilbert district.
It’s a practice Gilbert board member Elaine Morrison calls “exceedingly mundane.”
“I think we can do much better,” Morrison said. “Members have lacked the collective will to make any change. I’ve wanted to change it for many years. However, I have gotten outvoted many times.”
Morrison has served on the board from 1990 to 2002 and came back to the board last year. She “thinks it’s sad” the way the district names many of their schools.
“Gilbert is on a set path to vehemently avoid any connotation of history or contributions to the community,” she said. “Our names are complete fiction for the most part, which really saddens me.”
The district has a high school planned for opening in 2009 and an elementary school that still needs to be named.
The naming of the schools is “as hard of a job as anything,” Superintendent Brad Barrett said.
When the Gilbert district decided to deviate from the norm, it came up with a “cute” name around the desert.
It chose Desert Ridge for the junior high and high school in Mesa that were named in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Unfortunately, around the same time, Desert Ridge Marketplace in north Phoenix was opening. Lawyers for the large outdoor mall contacted the district and threatened a lawsuit over the name.
“That one almost got us in trouble, although nothing ever came from it,” Barrett said. “This is how hard it comes when you try to be creative and have it be meaningful. It’s a tough decision.”
NAMED AFTER NAMES
Although the Mesa district also names some of its schools after housing developments, it also chooses literary figures, local citizens and presidents to name schools after, said district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss.
Literary figures have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary and Robert Frost Elementary, while former presidents inspired Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary.
Although many of the schools in the Higley district are named after subdivisions, such as Power Ranch Elementary and Cortina Elementary, the district has had a few exceptions.
Students who would be attending the district’s second high school, which opened this year, were given the chance to name their new school.
They chose the name Williams Field High School after Charles Linton Williams, an Arizona-born pilot killed in the early years of flight.
It’s the same name of the street the school sits on and, until recently, the nearby airport, which was formerly Williams Air Force Base.
Beginning in the early 1970s, with the naming of Knox Elementary School in honor of the Knox family, the Chandler district board began to name facilities in tribute of individuals and families who have made a positive impact on the community, said district spokesman Terry Locke.
Some schools were also named in honor of families who had donated or sold land to the district.
In the case of Haley Knutsen, Haley’s battle with leukemia prompted an outpouring of support from the East Valley as the community raised more than $175,000 to help the family. Haley’s parents, Chris and Angie Knutsen, also work in the district as an assistant principal and a sixth-grade teacher, respectively.
QUEEN CREEK PIONEERS
About 10 years ago, the Queen Creek Unified School District had a policy in place that called to have schools named after desert plants or mountain landmarks, which is where the name Desert Mountain Elementary came from.
However, longtime board member Monte Nevitt, who was born and raised in the Queen Creek area, said the board “felt” it would hold a little more significance if it could name schools after someone who made a difference in the community and who had some ties to the district.
They worked closely with the San Tan Historical Society to identify those individuals and look through various histories and stories to see what captured the board’s interest. From that list, they recently named their two newest schools Newell Barney Middle School, opening next year, and Faith Sossaman Elementary School, which opens in 2009.
“The Sossaman name is still very much alive, although Faith is not alive anymore,” Nevitt said. “The old original dairy was started because she came home from school teaching and informed her husband that she needed milk for her students. She literally made lunch and brought milk to school to make sure they had a meal for school.”
Farmer Newell Barney came to Queen Creek in the 1940s and sat on the school board for more than a decade.
“They’ve all been known for a lifetime of service and an enduring legacy that goes on to kids serving the area,” Nevitt said. “The downside to this is perhaps there are many deserving individuals who we would like to recognize. We’re contemplating starting naming different wings after people.
“It’s part of the desire to simply allow people’s legacy to live on and at least have their story to be told through a plaque,” Nevitt said.