Last week, the Rochester School Board failed to name the new elementary school under construction in Northwest Rochester. One need only imagine why a seemingly simple and straightforward task causes so much consternation.
Last October, the district began accepting name concepts from community members and district staff. Over 400 individuals submitted names. All names that met the criteria were narrowed to five finalists by volunteers from the district's Facilities Task Force and the Elementary and Middle School Design Teams. The district then enlisted the community to rank recommendations in late October. The top two ranked names by the citizens of Rochester were Henry Plummer and Overland.
Dr. Henry Plummer was a founding Mayo Clinic physician and accomplished Rochester citizen by any measure. According to the Mayo Clinic's History and Heritage website, "Dr. Henry Plummer was a man of many talents: physician, scientist, engineer, and lover of the arts. He established systems and principles that define Mayo Clinic today." Overland is the name of the road that runs past the new elementary school and was an historic trail for earlier travelers.
What has happened since might be of interest to any person wishing for a glimpse into what the Rochester School Board is all about. Meetings can be viewed on the RPS School Board by visiting the School Board YouTube Playlist or YouTube channel at youtube.com/ISD535. Naming the elementary school has become a theater of the absurd. In case you missed the meetings or don't want to waste your time, here are a few of the highlights (lowlights):
During the Jan. 19 meeting, Director Amundsen sought to perhaps "re-define" the community's top two choices because "it depends on how you run the numbers." Director Garcia added she was "not enthused about either option" and wondered aloud what the board would do between meetings to "fix the issue." Director Workman stated, "... for some of our students, not having a school named after an already famous white man or geographical location ... is something the board should consider in light of our equity work." I guess achievement, innovation, and impact on modern medicine aren't good enough in the event you are born white and a man. As far as a geographical name, I expect Sunset Terrace, Elton Hills, and Riverside Elementary School names will change because they apparently don't sufficiently promote the district's "equity work.”
More recently, on Feb. 2, the board couldn't even show the community the decency to move their choice of Dr. Henry Plummer forward for a vote. That's right. The board didn't even vote to approve the top-ranked name selected by the community and through the accepted process! When voting on the second choice (Overland), the Board voted 3-3 with one abstention, thereby disapproving Overland. Director Maclaughlin showed a true profile in courage by abstaining from the vote.
Naming a school is not the most important decision a school board makes. However, it does give Rochester citizens, whom the board purports to represent, a view into their priorities. The Rochester School Board has now officially declared themselves important rather than useful. Moreover, their arrogance is completely apparent after dismissing an established community process.
How can Rochester property taxpayers and parents of children attending District schools trust this board with more substantial matters such as spending money prudently, assigning coherent school boundaries, or hiring a new superintendent? We can't and shouldn't. The Rochester School Board has no credibility and the only way to correct their disinterest is to hold them accountable daily and vote them all out of office when the time comes.
Corey Dahl is a district parent and Rochester resident. He participated in the community naming process in the fall 2020.