As Denton ISD grows, some call for openness in naming schools
The fast-growing Denton school district named more schools for people of color before 2001 than it has in the last 15 years.
While the Denton school board has named some major facilities for people of color during the building boom that began in 2001 — the C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, the Popo and Lupe Gonzalez School for Young Children and the Dennis E. Stephens Central Administration building — it has not named a new elementary, middle or high school for a person of color since 1994.
The pattern troubles local civil rights leaders.
District officials say that when naming school facilities for a person, that person’s ethnicity isn’t a factor. What the district does consider is the individual’s character and the work they did.
Willie Hudspeth, president of the Denton County NAACP,- recently told the school board it was time for a change. The district’s naming policy must better reflect the community the district serves, he said.
Although the majority of Denton’s population is white — nearly 74 percent of residents in 2010 — Denton ISD is close to becoming a majority-minority district, similar to much of the state population. Nearly 31 percent of the district’s 26,047 students are Hispanic. Another 12 percent are black. About 5 percent belong to other ethnic groups. Not quite 52 percent are white.
The Denton school district’s boundaries go beyond the city itself, reaching across 180 square miles of the county.
Since 2001, the district has opened or named 28 schools or other buildings, nearly tripling the number of named schools or buildings it had before.
In that time, the district has named 18 elementary, middle and high schools. Twelve were named for people, but none for a person of color. The other six were named for their location. In addition to the Collins athletic complex and the Gonzalez school, the only other facility named for a person of color since 2001 came in 2013. The district renamed its central services building for Dennis E. Stephens, a 41-year district employee.
Hudspeth is frustrated that the district doesn’t seem to have criteria for its decisions to name schools.
“It used to be that the person had to be deceased,” said Hudspeth, who served on the school board in the mid-1980s. “Now that’s changed.”
Board President Glenna Harris said it’s a guideline in the district’s administrative regulation relating to naming facilities that a structure be named for a deceased person, but it’s not a requirement. Ultimately, the decision at any time to name or rename a district facility rests with the school board, according to the regulation.
Several things are considered by the board when naming a new facility, Harris said, including relevance and geographic and historical significance. School board members also consider names submitted year-round by the public to the district’s name bank.
“I guess what it boils down to — regardless of whether it’s an elementary, middle school or high school — we look at the purpose of the facility, and we think about what is the message we’re wanting to send to the community via the name,” Harris said.
In cases in which land is donated to the school district for education use, the rules are a bit different. Landowners may specify in the deed of trust when transferring land to the district that they want to reserve naming rights for the facility, Harris said.
“Sometimes they [property owners] have a name that they want to use, and since they donated the land, we use that. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Well, we don’t have a specific name but we would like you to give us two or three options and we’ll pick the one that we think suits us,’” she said.
That is a legal agreement, said Randy Stout, the school board’s attorney.
Can a landowner name a school facility for anyone? Stout says the quick answer is no. While it hasn’t occurred, Stout said the district can refuse a land donation.
Hudspeth said he donated some of the land that became home to Tomas Rivera Elementary School, which was the last elementary school the district named for a person of color. Renowned author Tomas Rivera was born in Texas to farm laborers and worked as one himself before attending college, earning his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma.
Hudspeth called for change, saying that the district needs to give consideration in the naming of schools and other facilities to the entire population the district serves.
“They need to rotate the namings to balance it,” Hudspeth said, adding that the rotation should include not only race, but also gender and ethnicity.
Harris said school board members don’t look at naming a facility in terms of “equity in the color of the person a school is named after.”
“I’m going to go back to Martin Luther King — I would rather the character of the man, a person be judged on the character, their character and their works rather than the color of their skin, and I think that’s what you see going on here,” she said. “We’ve recognized people based on their contributions or local relevance, the quality of their character and their work rather than the color of their skin.”
Harris called the C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, named for a successful black coach and high school administrator who assisted in the integration of Fred Moore High School and Denton High School, a major facility for secondary school students. The stadium is the primary outdoor athletic facility for the district and serves as the home venue for Ryan and Guyer high school football games and the secondary stadium for Denton High School. It’s also used for soccer games.
By calling for the change, Hudspeth said that didn’t mean he and others thought less of the current round of namings, which included former Superintendent Ray Braswell and Athletic Director Bill Carrico.
“Those are good people. They’re all good people,” Hudspeth said.
However, the board said very little publicly when making the decisions, Hudspeth said.
“That should be a public discussion,” he said.
Mark R. Chew, a former City Council member and pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, said he has been working for years to get a school named for Dorothy Minter, a lifelong member of Pleasant Grove. Minter worked for the school district for 48 years, including laying the foundation for its special education program beginning in the 1970s.
“She’s a woman of very fine character,” Chew said, adding that even at age 81, Minter still teaches a Sunday school class each week. A few years ago, he delivered a petition to the school district with more than 100 signatures supporting her nomination.
Of the seven schools and district facilities named for people of color, former school board member Rudy Rodriguez noted that only two celebrate the achievements of Hispanics.
Rodriguez said he’s worked on three community campaigns alongside the Denton council of the League of United Latin American Citizens to have city and school facilities named for Mexican-Americans. Those campaigns led to the school district naming its first school for a Mexican-American, Rivera, followed with a second named for the Gonzalezes, who are local community volunteers and activists, and the city naming a soccer complex at North Lakes Park for Roland Vela, a retired University of North Texas microbiology professor and the first Hispanic elected to the Denton City Council.
Rodriguez said he’s proud to have served on the school board and played a role in policymaking. He said that while a lot of progress has been made, there’s work left to do in closing the gap between Denton’s population and names for facilities, parks and streets.
“Our school officials will be the first to acknowledge that we need to do more to celebrate the accomplishments of ... Americans who identify as American, Mexican-American or Latinos,” said Rodriguez, who in the 1980s also served as president for the Denton LULAC council. “Our record is not very good.”
The concern for a lack of facilities named to honor Mexican-Americans and Latinos goes beyond the school district, he said. More needs to be done at the school, city and county level to pay tribute and to celebrate the achievements of Mexican-Americans and Latinos, a population that’s growing quickly across the nation, Rodriguez said.
Everyone benefits from facilities named for different groups, and they express “in a very concrete way our value for different cultures,” he said. They strengthen a sense of value and belonging rather than alienating people, he said.
“We need to continue pressing for actions by … lawmakers, actions that benefit the entire population and ensure the cultural heritage of all groups,” Rodriguez said.
Soon, the Denton school district will look to name its 23rd elementary school. The campus is part of a $312 million bond package approved by voters in 2013. Also included in the bond are plans for a 24th elementary school, the district’s eighth middle school and a ninth-grade addition at Guyer High.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
NAMES AND DATES
The Denton school district has named many of its schools, and other facilities, for prominent people in the community and the country. Below is a list of Denton ISD-named facilities and the year those facilities were established. The year for Fred Moore High School, Joe Dale Sparks Campus, Davis School DAEP, the Norm T. Sisk Service Center Annex and Dennis E. Stephens Central Administration building specify when the facilities were renamed and/or moved.
A.O. Calhoun Middle School
Fred Moore High School*
Denton High School
Newton Rayzor Elementary
Woodrow Wilson Elementary
J.L. Ginnings Elementary
Chester Strickland Middle School
Frank Borman Elementary
Sam Houston Elementary
Evers Park Elementary
Eva Swan Hodge Elementary*
Dr. Ronald McNair Elementary*
Robert E. Lee Elementary
Tomas Rivera Elementary**
Billy Ryan High School
Carroll McMath Middle School
W.S. Ryan Elementary
Ann Windle School for Young Children
Pecan Creek Elementary
E.P. Rayzor Elementary
Ronny W. Crownover Middle School
Joe Dale Sparks Campus
Davis School DAEP
C.H. Collins Athletic Complex*
Mildred Hawk Elementary
Navo Middle School
John Guyer High School
Sarah and Troy LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex
L.A. Nelson Jr. Elementary
Paloma Creek Elementary
Annie Webb Blanton Elementary
Olive Stephens Elementary
Tom Harpool Middle School
Virginia Gallian Child Development Center
Gonzalez School for Young Children**
Cross Oaks Elementary
Norm T. Sisk Service Center Annex
Bettye Myers Middle School
Dennis E. Stephens Central Administration*
Dorothy P. Adkins Elementary
Ray Braswell High School
Bill Carrico Athletic Complex
* denotes a naming for a prominent African-American.
** denotes a naming for a prominent Hispanic.