WSCUHSD board tiptoes forward on rebranding, surveys students

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, November 24, 2021

west county high

Time is running out for the trustees of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) to decide the future name of its consolidated high school by January. The school board faces a bottleneck in the rebranding process for several reasons made clear at the Nov. 17 special meeting.

For one, the board is grappling with the fact that they haven’t restarted conversations with students exploring other school identities since they returned this fall.

After several failed motions, the trustees made the split-vote decision to survey the students on rebranding with the four options of choosing “Analy,” “West County,” “Other,” or to abstain. Vice Board President Jeanne Fernandes cast the lone vote against it, though her earlier motion differed only in the choices provided.

Superintendent Toni Beal said the survey would be administered to students the next day that week. The results are to be shared in an upcoming board agenda packet on Monday, Nov. 29 and taken up as an agenda item at the Dec. 1 special board meeting.

The great survey debates

Several trustees shared their own disappointment with the rebranding breakdown, dropping them into limbo with “West County” or “Analy” as their most developed options.

Officially, the school is named and operating as West County High School right now. The trustees directed the superintendent on May 12 to proceed with “West County” as a placeholder name “until additional financial information was known and current students could be consulted in the process,” according to a past agenda report. That was the same day they paused the rebranding timeline.

Board President Kellie Noe sized up one elephant in the room. “We have a bridge name that now we’re going with as a potential option for a permanent name, and we actually never had a community process where people could think about other names we haven’t even thought about yet. And I don’t know how or if it’s appropriate to capture on the survey, but I just have to admit I’m really struggling with that,” she said. “It’s like we kind of closed a door on that piece.”

The board was conflicted about sending out another survey at all. Some trustees hesitated to place further pressure on students who might fear retaliation from their peers. Trustee Angie Lewis asked how the board could leave students out of a decision that could impact them the most.

“We’re not going to get the results we want to hear, regardless of what the results are. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” Fernandes said, sharing her belief that the survey would inevitably divide people. “Somebody somewhere ain’t going to like the choices we make.”

Lewis said she agreed, but added, “I just think that being that this decision is going to affect the kids, I’d like to have their input,” as well as staff input. “But being that these people have worked so hard to come together, it just seems crazy to make a decision that’s going to directly affect them without at least taking their input into account.”

Meanwhile, Trustee Julie Aiello said she’d heard from the community that the idea of the survey was stressing students out and questioned if the survey itself would be good for them.

“I feel like it’s important to have student input, especially with the survey just so students know who’s actually listening to them for once. It’s important that they know who supports them and who takes into consideration what they think,” said Dylan Peña Pérez, the board’s student representative.

When he talked to students about how many trustees don’t want to survey them, he said those students told him “they feel like they’re not being taken into consideration as they should and they’re not happy about it.” Others suggested that if the name “Analy” meant so much, buildings on campus could be named after Analy and El Molino, he said.

Trustee Patrick Nagle shared that a couple students reached out to him saying they didn’t want to issue their opinions in case of reprisals. “I kind of liken it to ‘Mom and Dad are fighting and we’re now asking the kids to decide who’s right,’” he said.

He continued, “I’m a little concerned that the divisiveness, the pressure, the leveraging that all sides are engaged in right now is going to not lead to the results that we’re hoping for … in terms of a true litmus test of what people want.”

Whether there’s an intention to explore the “other” option is unknown. The survey presents the option without a fill-in-the-blank section for students to elaborate on their ideas.

District community members speak out

Over the past month, some district staff have shared the feedback they’ve received and their own experiences of transitioning to the bridge name for the new school year, that it took so much work to make it work that they don’t want to go through it again.

At the Nov. 10 meeting, librarian Julie McClelland voiced that the idea of changing names and rebranding again frustrated her after seeing what students, counselors and career center staff are going through registering students for college.

She said West County High School isn’t showing up and former El Molino students’ AP scores are coming up as from an unknown high school. “That is stressful to those poor students. The college-bound students are really on the receiving end of the difficulty of this. If we change again, I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is.”

Heidi Mickelson, who teaches agriculture, shared on Nov. 10 that taking on the West County bridge name meant rechartering a new chapter and finishing “extensive paperwork and applications” with students over the summer to meet an early September deadline in order for Future Farmers of America (FFA) students to qualify at the national level again this year.

They also invested in jackets, expecting almost half of its 264 members to buy one and spending about $800 in ASB funds through the FFA’s account for a set of jackets to loan, she said.

“I’m a little concerned that this name has seemed to have been made more permanent than the board ever expected it to be. I’m quite confused by that and very conflicted, as you all well know,” Fernandes said on Nov. 17, though she agreed student input would be good to have.

Lewis said, “People bought into the idea of this unification and that was why I think people made moves. And I think the fact that it went way better than anticipated and people invested and bought in would be a reason to keep it there.” Throughout the meeting, she voiced support for adopting the bridge name officially.

A sophomore who last attended El Molino said she’s “happy at West County,” but finds any further disruption to be “disrespectful to the students” after what the school community has endured in the last two years.

“You called us West County and we’ve all adapted to the continual disruptions you’ve thrown at us. Our sports teams have worn West County jerseys and we’ve bought West County shirts. This may have been a temporary name, but it’s become our school’s identity,” she said.

The student went on to say that going with the name Analy would “alienate” the formerly El Molino students. “If you care at all about our social, emotional health, you will honor our resiliency by letting us remain west county,” she stated.

Though outnumbered in public comments, Analy supporters made their presence known at the Nov. 17 meeting, too. Mandi Marrs echoed another attendee saying it’s unfortunate that the board is surveying students yet again and after more money has been spent on rebranding.

“I want the school to stay Analy. My husband and myself both are Analy alumni and my son started his freshman year as an Analy student. He cares about the name change,” she said. “He wants it to stay Analy because he feels like an idiot when he fills out job applications and all kinds of other things to say what school did you attend.”

Janelle Roventini said, “I believe Analy needs to stay Analy. A placeholder name doesn’t erase the name of Analy. It’s simply that, a placeholder name.” She found it “extremely reckless” that over $100,000 has already been spent on West County materials that have “only cheapened the campus,” she said. “I have to believe that could have been spent better. It could have been spent toward our students.”

Roventini added, “We’re parents, we’re taxpayers, we’re constituents, your community. You need us to survive and I think you all know that. I think you need to get this show on the road. This has gone on too long.”

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