A California school district is naming its new school after an illegal immigrant after board members chose the man over President Barack Obama, Medal of Freedom recipient Grace Hopper, and a local official with decades of service to the community.
The Mountain View Whisman School District solicited input in naming a new school on North Whisman Road that will open in 2019 for grades K-5, but documents show the board selected a candidate it suggested at the start of the process: activist Jose Antonio Vargas.
A slideshow of the selection process shows board members suggested Vargas, who was smuggled into the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 12, then held an “online community conversation” in March 2018 through ThoughtExchange asking the community to weigh in.
The effort was marketed through “schools’ newsletters, superintendent’s newsletters, website, social media and direct mail postcard to 5,000 residents of the Slater neighborhood,” according to the presentation.
The online conversation identified five criterion locals want the school name to reflect, including diversity and inclusion, leadership and core values, community oriented, significance in education, and the school’s values.
Suggested names included Gail Urban Moore, a district trustee for nearly three decades; computer pioneer and World War II veteran Grace Hopper; Ruth Clouse Chance, a philanthropist from California; Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Vargas, a former MVWSD student who won a Pulitzer-prize with a team of reporters at The Washington Post covering the Virginia Tech massacre.
The school board convened a focus group – coordinated through the superintendent – to review the suggested names, and score and rank the winners.
“Because only a few people were able to make the focus group meeting scheduled for Thursday night, we have decided to email you the score sheet for the nominated names,” Kathi Lilga wrote to Lana Chan, a member of the focus group. “If you please would please take a few minutes to rank the names … (it) would be very much appreciated. No need to attend the focus group meeting.”
Score cards show members of the group revised their scores several times before voting on the names. The tally shows Barack Obama tied with Vargas with 12 votes. In the end, the school board voted to approve the name it suggested from the beginning.