The recent public engagement process initiated by the school councils of Bishops College and Booth Memorial was a great way to involve the community in choosing a name for the long-awaited new high school in the west end of St. John’s. Interested persons were invited to submit ideas for a name for the school.
Once the period for submissions ended, a committee made up of representatives from both high school councils decided on what name to present to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District’s Board of Trustees for approval. Part of the process included one night of in-person submissions. As I understand it, there were 13 in total. People could also send submissions via email. Again, as I understand it, there were over 700 of these.
All in all, I would call that type of response a huge success. Clearly there was a lot of interest in the community for naming this new school.
Allowing the public to be part of this process sends the right message: this is your school. After all, it will no doubt be a focal point of the neighbourhood and the school community in general for many, many years to come. Thousands of people will have a vested interest in its success.
The public, to its credit, responded.
In fact, they responded overwhelmingly, and overwhelmingly in favour of one option. Of the 13 in-person submissions, seven suggested the school be named in honour of the late Dr. David Dibbon, a former teacher, principal, school board trustee and dean of education at Memorial. Only one other proposal (for Dorothy Wyatt) received more than one submission (three).
Of the 700-plus email submissions, over 630 suggested Dr. David Dibbon. That is a substantial and resounding majority. Clearly that idea struck a chord in the community.
When the committee came to its decision, they recommended “Waterford Valley High.” This name simply reflects the location of the building. It does not reflect any values or ideals on which this school could be built.
Dr. Dibbon stood for excellence in education. He was a leader and a pioneer in technology-based education methods. He believed strongly in fitness and physical activity and he was a believer in the power of schools to strengthen a community and neighbourhood spirit.
I know there has been a trend in recent years, both in the province and out, of naming schools after locations, and maybe sometimes that’s OK.
Sometimes, however, you have an opportunity to honour someone with a dedication that is truly fitting.
The guidelines on the district’s website regarding naming and re-naming schools clearly puts the ultimate decision in the hands of the trustees and spells out the process. Here are the relevant points:
• The board maintains the general right and responsibility to name, re-name and dedicate all schools in the district.
• The naming/re-naming of schools should be undertaken following consultation with the community.
• The board will consider names that relate to the location of the school, persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the country, province or municipality, or to public service on behalf of children, and have significant meaning to the community.
Obviously, from these guidelines, we can see that the community is an important part of this process.
While I truly respect the work and effort of the committee, I am asking that the board of trustees reject the name “Waterford Valley High” for the new high school. The overwhelming opinion of the community has to mean something.
Take this opportunity to honour someone whose entire professional career was dedicated to education in one way or another and whose impact on education in our city, province and country was enormous.
Scott Fitzgerald writes from St. John’s.