Monday, August 1, 2016
Peyton A. James Middle School? Why Not?
I attended five public schools in my life: Decius Beebe Elementary, Robert V. Yeuell School, Middle Road School, Wunsche Middle School, and Spring High School. Three of the schools are named after local, notable citizens, a philanthropist, a war hero, and a prominent citizen. The others named after their locations. I have taught at schools named after historical figures, sugar barons, educators, locations, and trees. Every district has a process, rules and traditions that they follow when naming schools. Some times schools will even change the name of a school if the original name is suddenly found offensive. The Austin Independent School District recently chose to rename an elementary school originally named after a Confederate general, and looked to the public for input. While I am sure that there were legitimate suggestions, the most popular was Donald Trump Elementary School. Needless to say, the process is imperfect, and no matter what you choose, there will be those who will not be happy and will feel slighted.
Earlier this week, Peyton's mother sent me a link about Georgetown ISD asking the public for their input into the naming of a new middle school. It was suggested by a friend of her's that the district name the new school after Peyton. I looked at GISD Board Policy CW (LOCAL) outlines criteria for the naming of a new district facility. The policy states that a new facility shall be named for one of the following:
1. A historical or geographical site or community
2. A local, state, or national historical event or place
3. A significant local, state or national figure
4. A person who has made a significant contribution to education in the district
Furthermore, if the proposed name is in honor of an individual, the name must be accompanied by a written rationale and/or description of the named person’s accomplishments. Each name nominated must fulfill the following criteria:
1. The nominee shall be widely respected, regardless of any partisan affiliation.
2. The nominee shall be a person of character who embodies a wholesome image that would be expected to stand the test of time.
3. The nominee shall have a background of service to people of the district, Texas, or the United States.
As I looked over the criteria, I began to wonder how Peyton would fit. Was he significant locally? I can't think of how he isn't. Peyton' mother has done everything possible in Georgetown to keep Peyton's memory alive. Through her organization, Kindness Matters, she has addressed hundreds of students and faculty about the importance of students treating each other with kindness and respect, to help friends in a time of need, and how to stand up to bullies. The students and staff of Georgetown ISD are better because of him. Peyton was not partisan. He actually had no interest in politics, on fairness for all. He was of character, honest and decent, fair and kind to all, and how can you get more wholesome than red hair and freckles. Peyton's service to the people of the district is keeping people alive. I can't think of a more noble case than saving lives.
Yes, there are those who would, and have, voiced their opposition. They ask why would a school district choose to name a school after a student, especially one that completed suicide? I ask them, why not? Yes, there are hundreds of schools named after presidents, generals, politicians, historical figures, towns, geographical locations, prominent local citizens, school boards members, and administrators. What you don't see much of are teachers and students, the back bone of any district. In my experience, I know of one school named for a student that died in the prime of their life, yet without students, then schools no longer exist.
I am not overly optimistic that Peyton's name would even garner any consideration. In larger, expanding districts, cronyism runs rampant, and the names of schools are decided long before ground has even been broken for construction. However, it would be a bold move on the part of Georgetown ISD to give Peyton's name consideration. Think of the message they could send to the community that students rate consideration, that they are the backbone of a school system. When I originally posted this information last week on Facebook, Chelsea Fullwood, an Austin area attorney and suicide survivor, said it best in her letter to Georgetown ISD in support of Peyton, "We’ve got schools named for politicians, religious leaders, educators, civil rights advocates and – let’s be frank – donors. Peyton represents the fragility of adolescence. His name should serve to remind parents, teachers and students that kindness, love and patience are more important than grades, scores or celebrity. His name should serve to remind students that none of us is alone. I don’t believe Peyton’s parents would shy from admitting that their courage, compassion and resilience in the wake of such tragedy comes from a desire for their son’s death to mean something. And for every person that wakes up and thinks, “I’m not alone and I’m not going to let anyone else feel that way today,” because they knew Peyton James – it does."