Wednesday, May 6, 2009
School-Naming Turmoil Ends
For a while, it looked like the Colton school board was going to dig in its heels on naming the future high school in Grand Terrace after a former school board member instead of the city that will be its home.
The March 12 decision to name it "Ray Abril Jr. High School" stirred up lots of resentment among the vast majority of residents who wanted the long-awaited high school to be named Grand Terrace High.
Board member Robert Armenta Jr., who was the most vocal advocate of naming it after retired board member Abril, at one point said he wouldn't be bullied or intimidated into backing down.
But this week, Armenta acknowledged the widespread outcry against the name caught him by surprise and ultimately made him change his mind.
Last week, in a specially convened meeting, four board members did the right thing. They voted to change the school's name from "Ray Abril Jr. High School" to "Grand Terrace High School at the Ray Abril, Jr., Educational Complex." Cumbersome? Yes. But it satisfied both factions.
Three board members were absent, but one sent a message of support for the retooled name.
The compromise resolved seven weeks of turmoil for the district and its community.
From the moment the board voted to name the future high school after Abril, residents of Grand Terrace pleaded, petitioned and threatened the school board to reconsider.
Former board member Tobin Brinker, now a San Bernardino councilman, suggested students might "opt out" of state performance testing that helps determine school funding. Talk about playing hardball.
Under unrelenting pressure, the board agreed on April 23 to consider a compromise: "Grand Terrace High School, honoring Ray Abril." But the compromise died when the board deadlocked on a 3-3 vote.
Amanda Betten, whose group championed the Grand Terrace High name, said she had gone into that meeting believing Armenta would support the compromise.
But Armenta told me he had realized the compromise didn't fit the purpose of honoring Abril's 28 years on the board.
Naming a facility after Abril was a personal mission for Armenta.
Abril was a mentor as Armenta grew up attending Colton schools. Abril regularly attended PTA meetings and parent nights, Armenta said, and always asked him how he was doing in school and encouraged him to go to college.
Having a Latino role model inspired him, he said, and he wanted Abril's name to be a lasting inspiration for future students.
Armenta said he couldn't be at peace with himself until he came up with the right name. On April 29, the board chose the new title, honoring the city and Abril.
Armenta called it a win-win.
Betten agreed, saying it was wonderful and amazing to see the community and the school board overcome their rancor and reach an agreement that honored Abril and the community's wishes.
A full-time student at Riverside Community College, Betten said the experience was a real-life exercise in the kind of social movements she was studying in her political science class.
The move has made the people of Grand Terrace very, very happy, Mayor Marietta Ferre said.
The compromise was a relief for Armenta. "I lost many nights of sleep," he said of the long ordeal.
It's just too bad Abril didn't gracefully demur when the controversy surfaced and ask the board to name something else after him.
The district and the community could have been spared this long, divisive battle.
Cassie MacDuff can be reached at 951-368-9470 or cmacduff@PE.com
Posted by Letti at 8:48 AM