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Corvallis task force narrows school name suggestions to top 20
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Corvallis task force narrows school name suggestions to top 20

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Jefferson Elementary School Sign

Jaguar Elementary School, formerly known as Jefferson Elementary Schools, will be renamed after tribal leader Kathryn Jones Harrison if the Corvallis School Board backs a recommendation of Superintendent Ryan Noss at a Thursday meeting.

The Corvallis School Renaming Task Force is seeking further input on potential names before going to the School Board for approval.

Last Thursday, the Corvallis School District announced that the task force — created to rename Husky, Jaguar and Wildcat elementary schools, and potentially any of the other 14 district-owned buildings — had reached a top 20 list of contenders for new names following its Dec. 1 meeting. A new public input period opened on Dec. 3 for comments on those 20 suggestions.

“It’s important for people to understand that this is a step in the process, but not the final decision,” said district spokeswoman Brenda Downum.

A School Board resolution from August removed the names of former presidents Herbert Hoover, Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson from elementary schools because the men engaged in racist practices during their lifetimes. In the meantime, the schools adopted the names of their mascots for the current academic year. It has not yet been decided whether other building names are on the chopping block.

A charter drafted by Noss allowed for the district to create a diverse task force for the purpose of researching and officially suggesting new names after several meetings and periods of public input.

There are 13 task force members ranging from fifth-graders to grownups, representing near-equal parts women and men and spanning at least five ethnic groups. Once the task force’s work is complete, it will send recommendations to Noss, who will then bring them before the School Board for a vote.

"It has been amazing to see the amount of engagement from the community with names being suggested," said School Board member and task force liaison Luhui Whitebear in an email to the Gazette-Times. "The care and thoughtful approach to the list of names by the task force has also been amazing. ... It is a big task and it is beautiful to see the level of community-based learning happening through the process."

The top 20 is a mix of internal suggestions by task force members and public submissions. A list of names sent in by the public as of Nov. 10 was made available on the district website after the task force’s fourth meeting. Of the 112 published names sent to the group, seven made the cut.

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“The committee reviewed all of them, plus the committee had names that they brought forward themselves,” said Wenaha Group consultant and task force facilitator Melanie Quaempts. “There were also names that were submitted directly to the School Board that were given to the superintendent and then given to us. Then the committee narrowed that first list down to 38, and from 38 they narrowed that down to 20.”

The task force filters its suggestions through six criteria, emphasizing names that: evoke inspiration, reflect commitments to social justice, represent women (after whom no building is currently named), honor local indigenous history, show the community’s “connection to place,” and reject white dominance.

“Through the lens of the criteria provided by the School Board, all of those suggestions were reviewed,” Downum said. “For example, some of the suggestions were about trees. Unless there was some specific way that a tree suggestion fit into the criteria, those names did not make it through.”

Sixteen of the top 20 represent women, after whom no Corvallis building is currently named. Four involve indigenous history, including the name of a Kalapuyan group, a local chief, and two women of Native American heritage. Nine suggestions are named for Black people, three for people of East Asian descent and three for people of Hispanic heritage.

Although the task force is still accepting new name suggestions, the group will soon discuss a cutoff, Quaempts said.

There have already been about 80 responses sent to the task force since the top 20 names were posted, Downum said Wednesday evening. More comments are expected as members of the public visit the district website and as students complete surveys sent out by Noss to provide feedback on the list.

District-led equity committees involving non-task force students and community members will also provide feedback at the next meeting on Tuesday, Quaempts said. After the input period ends, the group will “have discussions using a triangulation of all the data.”

Noss’ charter has an expected end date of January, with room to extend if needed. Queampts said, at this point, expecting a decision by the end of January would be “a hard-pressed schedule.”

“They’re really trying to do their due diligence to consider the public comments,” Quaempts said of the task force members. “They’re very respectful in wanting to value that folks have feelings and perspectives and ideas on new names and current names.”

The public comment period closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday night. To access the form, visit csd509j.net/school-renaming#Input/.

Nia Tariq can be reached at 541-812-6091. Follow her on Twitter @NiaTariq.

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