New St. John’s school’s name about unity: committee chair

Choice questioned given substantial support to honour deceased educator

Published on March 15, 2014
Waterford Valley High School under construction in the west end of St. John’s.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

According to the chair of the committee tasked with naming the new west end high school in St. John’s, the decision to go with Waterford Valley High was all about unifying students at the new school scheduled to open in the fall of 2015.

However, there are concerns the committee failed to adequately consider the submissions of a large contingent hoping the school would be named after a deceased educator.

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The naming committee includes representatives from the school coun­cils of Bishops College and Booth Memorial. The name recommendation to be voted on by the New­foundland and Labrador English School District board of trustees was announced earlier this month following a public consultation process.

According to committee chair Nathan Whalen, that process at­tract­ed more than 600 submissions by email, by mail and in person.

Scott Fitzgerald, a former school council chair at St. Mary’s Elementary who helped form the west end high school committee with other local school council chairs, was among those advocating to name the school after David Dibbon.

Dibbon, who died in 2010 at the age of 52, was a former Bishops College principal and Eastern School District board of trustees member who later became Memorial University’s dean of education.

Fitzgerald and Dibbon had children in the same class at St. Mary’s and also interacted on school council matters.

“I guess over a number of years, getting to know Dave and his history in the field of education, his career and the kinds of things he’d done, once he passed away, it was such a shock and such a loss,” said Fitzgerald. “Everybody felt both personally and from the perspective of him being such a great advocate for kids and education in general, (and) once the idea came up of naming a new high school ... a lot of people had the same idea that it would be such a great idea to name it after him.”


Lots of support for Dibbon

According to Fitzgerald, a web widget linked to Facebook tracked more than 630 submissions to the committee that supported naming the school after Dibbon.

Speaking with The Telegram Friday, Whalen said the decision to select Waterford Valley High School as the name was based on the best interests of the school community as a whole.

“When we sat down to have a look at what the name recommendation should be, we shortlisted names based on some guidelines, and those guidelines really came down to figuring out what was going to be the most unifying and inclusive name. And also, we had to recognize some potential divisiveness. So for example, who would be upset with a name, is there going to be fighting about the name, things like that ... and also what the students will think.”

Whalen notes there are three different school communities coming together, including students from St. John Bosco School in Shea Heights.

“We had to make sure we picked a name that was either representative or at least unifying to create that school identity for those students, so that was really the main reason why we selected that name.”

Such rationale may exclude naming a new school after a former administrator of Bishops College — a move that could be interpreted to favour one school’s history over another.

Whalen confirmed that issue was brought up by some committee members and the public, but said it was not the overriding factor in the final decision.

“Dr. David Dibbon was a fantastic educator,” said Whalen, who is also the school council chair at Bishops College. “He was a very vocal advocate for this school that’s currently being built in the west end. ... That was something that was certainly raised. However, I don’t think that was one of the main reasons why that name was rejected and not selected. I think that’s just a small piece of it. But it is a good point that it would be representative of one school’s history a little bit more so than others.”

Whalen notes several prominent names were suggested, including former St. John’s city councillor Dorothy Wyatt and media icon Geoff Stirling.

Fitzgerald is ultimately not a fan of the name Waterford Valley High School.

“For me, it should having some meaning and significance. I was disappointed that Waterford Valley High just seemed so bland and without any kind of substance. ... If (the committee) had looked at it and said, ‘I guess we recognize (Dibbon’s) contribution, but we’re going to go in this direction and honour this event or this person instead,’ I would have been OK with that, but to have it named after nothing — it’s just a location — I don’t see the point in that.”

The board of trustees is scheduled to meet April 12 to vote on the name recommendation.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew