Not surprisingly, there has been much talk in the Williams Lake community this week about the campus names of Lake City Secondary being changed.
This past Tuesday evening, the Board renamed the campuses. The Western Campus became the Columneetza Campus, and the Carson Campus became the Williams Lake Campus.
Since the end of January 2013 when the Board made many school reconfiguration decisions in both the north and south ends of our district, it would be fairly safe to say that the new school name and new campus names have generated the most letters to the editor, water cooler conversations, and social media dialogues.
First, two clarifications are necessary.
- The new amalgamated secondary school in Williams Lake (Grades 7-12) is still called Lake City Secondary. – The overall name of the school has not changed. When the Board of Education of School District No. 27 made the decision to combine the two secondary schools and add Grade 7 to the mix, a naming process followed. There were two aspects to this naming process – the naming of the new school and the naming of the two campuses. In May, the Board, following a subcommittee and student consultation process, made the decision to name the school Lake City Secondary and the campuses Western and Carson due to their street locations. While the campus names changed this week, the school name has not. In this regard, the school is still going ahead with new team uniforms, new letterhead, etc.
- While there are some costs associated with this new Board decision, the costs are minimal. – Approximately a month ago, the district had new signs erected at both campuses. There will be a cost of approximately $2000 to change the campus names on these signs. There will also be some costs associated with changes that will be necessary for our transportation software. I know that a few thousand dollars can be a large amount of money depending on circumstances, and I don’t want to minimize that, but there have been some suggestions in the community that this campus name change will be a contributor to our ongoing financial shortfalls. While this is technically true, this is not a huge amount relative to an overall budget that is over $50 million dollars annually.
When the Board discussed the possibility of new school and campus names in public meetings last spring, the debate centred on maintaining history versus creating a new culture. For the first time in decades, Williams Lake was going to be home to only one secondary school. All students in the same grades would all be in one school for their high school years.
Both Columneetza and Williams Lake Secondary had their own stories.
The Columneetza school and name had been in existence since 1967. “Columneetza”, an Athapaskan First Nations name originally given to the Williams Lake area means “the meeting place of the princely people”. After student school name submissions, a vote had been taken amongst all Grade 10, 11 and 12 students, and the Columneetza name was the winner (my thanks to former Principal Barry Sale for this information).
While Williams Lake Secondary had only existed as a Grades 8-12 school since 1998, the story of the school was also a meandering one, as both Columneetza and Williams Lake Secondary had had a few configurations changes over a number of decades. While Columneetza graduates far outnumber WLSS graduates, the fact remains that WLSS too has thousands of alumni floating around our communities and the rest of the world.
There were many reasons for the Board to consider keeping both school names. “Columneetza” due to both its uniqueness and its First Nations history seems to bring about stronger feelings within the larger Williams Lake community. Still “Williams Lake Secondary”, while obviously more generic, had its own history for both staff and students.
The Board also needed to consider that naming facilities has both short-term and long-term ramifications. If the new school were to be given the name of either “Columneetza” or “Williams Lake Secondary”, one entity (in practicality, one group of staff and students) would have been swallowed up by another entity. For long ago graduates of either school, this may seem like a petty concern, but as two groups of students and staff came together this September, it was essential that everyone felt valued. There is more than one past example and some present examples in our district where one school has been amalgamated into another. We know that sometimes these changes can be very difficult, and it was important that the Board handled this matter with some sensitivity.
By giving the new school a new name, it was hoped that both staff and students would come together to create a fresh new identity. Based on public Board discussions, I know that no disrespect was meant towards the names and histories of both Columneetza and Williams Lake Secondary, and the naming process was not taken lightly. While the name of “Lake City Secondary” has certainly created strong feelings within the community, the intent behind choosing a new name was thoughtful.
After the school name was chosen, the next decision was about campus names. Again the debate was one of creating a new culture versus protecting history. If the Columneetza and Williams Lake names remained as campus names, would students, staff, and the larger community ever use the school name of Lake City Secondary? Many in the community have argued that they will “never” use the new name of the school and will “always” refer to the school as “WL” and “Columneetza”. That may be true for some, and it may take a generation, but eventually it will happen. (On May 28, 1970, Williams Lake Elementary officially changed its name to Marie Sharpe Elementary. I don’t hear many people calling the school Williams Lake Elementary anymore.)
Thus, the Board’s debate about the campus names came down to deciding whether it was possible to completely create a new identity if the old school names remained even as campus names. In May, the decision was to start with brand new names for the school and the campuses. This past Tuesday, the Board did nothing to change the school name but did decide to return the original building names back as the campus names.
History won out in the end, but in the meantime, a new culture is being created at the two new campuses either because of or in spite of what has been occurring at a district level. I would venture to say that the majority of our students care less about school names and more about the new friends they are making, the old friends they have met up with again, and the new teachers from whom they are learning.
When asked by a member of the media this week as to which campus names I would have preferred, I responded that the names of the schools matter much less to me than does the quality of teaching and learning that is happening in those schools. While I understand that history is very important for people and communities, my job and our jobs in district leadership have everything to do with the future we are offering our students and far less to do with the name of the school those students attended in the past.
I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark