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Board votes on new names for Jordan and Terman middle schools

Finn Mennuti, Benjamin Huang, and Dylan Zou

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The Palo Alto school board deliberates on six proposed new names for Jordan Middle School and Terman Middle School on Tuesday. The board decided by a unanimous vote to name Jordan Middle School after Frank Greene Jr. and Terman Middle School after Ellen Fletcher. “The only school in our district that is named after a person of color is Juana Briones, and I think that obviously does not reflect our community," board member Jennifer DiBrienza said in support of naming Jordan Middle School after Greene, who is African American. Photo: Benjamin Huang

The Palo Alto school board deliberates on six proposed new names for Jordan Middle School and Terman Middle School on Tuesday. The board decided by a unanimous vote to name Jordan Middle School after Frank Greene Jr. and Terman Middle School after Ellen Fletcher. “The only school in our district that is named after a person of color is Juana Briones, and I think that obviously does not reflect our community,” board member Jennifer DiBrienza said in support of naming Jordan Middle School after Greene, who is African American. Photo: Benjamin Huang

The Palo Alto school board, after a unanimous vote at a meeting on Tuesday, will rename Jordan Middle School after Frank Greene Jr. and Terman Middle School after Ellen Fletcher.

The board struck down an initial vote to rename Terman to Adobe Creek Middle School and Jordan to Redwood Middle School by a vote of 4-1, with board member Todd Collins dissenting.

Each board member then gave a perspective on which two names should be used, with Collins expressing his support for naming Jordan middle school after Greene.

“I really admire Mr. Greene as well,” Collins said. “I am a business person, and I admire the things that he did, both technical and business building, over many decades.”

Board member Ken Dauber said that he supported Fred Yamamoto and Fletcher being the names of the two schools.

“I think that they are particularly appropriate in the project of rejecting eugenicists’ thinking,” Dauber said. “I don’t want us to come out of this process with the signal that names matter in ways that are not appropriate for the community.”

After deliberation and a vote, the board unanimously decided to use Greene and Fletcher as the final two names.

Fletcher, whom Terman will be named after, lived in Berlin as a child and went through a string of foster homes and Jewish orphanages. As the Nazis seized power, she was deported to London. She later became an outspoken advocate of bicycle safety in Palo Alto.

Ms. Fletcher began her political involvement in the 1960s and in 1982 after she guided the city council as chairwoman to bring the first bike boulevard to the United States on Bryant Street. Her work advocating for bike-related issues spanned more than 50 years. In 1996 she was awarded the League of American Bicyclists Volunteer of the Year, and in 1997, she was named the Bay Area Air Quality District Clean Air Champion.

When Fletcher passed away in 2012, her legacy on bike issues lived on, as Palo Alto launched a series of bicycle-related projects, including implementing more bike boulevards and building a bike bridge across U.S. Highway 101.

Jordan will be named after Frank Greene Jr., who was a trailblazer as one of the first black technologists in the area.

According to a Palo Alto Online article, Greene grew up in segregated St. Louis in the 1940s and 1950s. The effects of his early life experiences are shown in NewVista Capital, a venture firm which gives attention to companies led by minorities and women. He later founded the GO-Positive Foundation as well, a leadership program designed for college and high school students.

A highly-respected Silicon Valley tech titan, Greene was added to the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame in 2001 in acknowledgment of his achievements.

According to a biography on Greene, he worked his first job at the National Security Agency, where he helped develop high-speed computers. In the 1960s, Greene worked at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs and created a computer memory chip that had been the fastest during its time. Soon after, he founded Technology Development Corporation, a computer software company, and Zero One Systems, Inc.

The most contentious issue discussed at the meeting was one of the proposed middle school names: Yamamoto.

According to an article by The Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese daily news website, Yamamoto was a Japanese-American who graduated from Palo Alto High School in the Class of 1936 and was subsequently interned, along with many other Japanese Americans during World War II, based on the popular belief that Japanese-Americans sympathized with Imperial Japan.

Yamamoto volunteered to fight in the 442nd infantry regiment, a regiment mostly made of Japanese-American volunteers which became the most decorated combat unit in American history according to Densho Encyclopedia. Yamamoto was killed in action on October 28, 1944.

Palo Alto’s Chinese-American community had voiced its concerns that the name Yamamoto conjured up painful memories of another man bearing the same surname: Isoroku Yamamoto.

Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese navy admiral who, according to Brittanica.com, was a major supporter of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. Isoroku Yamamoto and Fred Yamamoto were not relatives.

Many community members came forth to voice these sentiments during the public comment portion of the meeting.  

“Let’s bring our community back together by picking a neutral geographic name without controversy,” speaker Eugene Wei said. “A geographic name may not be as inspirational as a hero’s is. Geographic titles don’t have legends behind them like heroes’ titles do, but legends not only can be told, but also can be made. As the new Palo Alto generation, we want to create our own legends.”

Other members of the community gave statements supporting the renaming of one of the schools using Yamamoto’s name.

“This is 2018, and this is America, and this is Palo Alto, and this is a time to focus on educating all, students and community alike, to the admirable qualities of Fred Yamamoto by naming a middle school in his honor,” speaker Amy O’Connell said. “Education is the hallmark and focus of PAUSD … What a great, teachable moment this is.”

The majority of the board was not supportive of the Yamamoto name, with only Gunn school board representative Advait Arun and Collins in favor of it.

“As much as I believe that Fred Yamamoto deserves to have a school named after him, I am going to say that right now I feel the need to pick from the rest of the list,” board member Melissa Baten-Caswell said. “Everybody on that list is inspirational … I would be proud to have any of the six people, but I want somebody that all of us can get behind and be inspired by.”

Baten-Caswell said that no matter the outcome, the divisions in the community that have existed since the initial proposal to change the middle schools’ names in 2017 must be mended. 

“I think we need to be honest with ourselves and think about what it will take to come together,” Baten-Caswell said. “These are the people, folks, that if we have an earthquake, they’re going to have to help you. You’re going to have to help them. If you have a heart attack in the supermarket, I hope the person next to you will call 9-1-1. And if we have these kinds of divisions in the community this is not going to happen.”

 

 

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