WSCUHSD consolidated high school gets a working name
By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, May 19, 2021
The contested union of Analy High School and El Molino High School has a new working name: West County High School.
The West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) trustees decided at their May 12 meeting to move forward with the name as a stand-in so students could have a shared new identity to rally behind and represent in sports this fall.
While the board cast no formal vote, the trustees further directed Superintendent Toni Beal to bring the rebranding timeline back as an action item at the May 26 board meeting for the board to reconsider its previous vote to postpone the process.
The board voted a week before on May 5, to suspend the rebranding timeline until the budget proves steady enough. WSCUHSD is now entangled in a pending lawsuit, trustee election changes per the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) by 2022 and a potential recall election the district would have to pay for, Beal said on May 5.
Beal said she spent two days in talks with staff and students about the rebranding postponement and found the consequences of the May 5 vote were swift.
Teachers resigned from the unity committee and the student design team tasked with determining a new school name, mascot and colors has disbanded for the time being, feeling the board didn’t support their work to unite the communities and rebrand, she said.
“And in all honesty, I believe that that decision was a mistake,” she said. “I actually believe that that decision is not in the best interest of our students and not in the best interest of what we’re trying to do in terms of bringing our communities together.”
Beal said that regardless of why the decision had been made, the student design team she met with earlier that day were “devastated” that the board appeared to pull its support and blow their work into the wind.
After working on rebranding for over a month with Varsity Brands, a district unity campaign partner, Beal said the dissolving student design team were offered to participate in the unifying activities between the two schools’ leadership students or possibly join rebranding efforts if they continue next year.
Rebranding committee members speak out
Mike Roan is the El Molino leadership teacher bringing the leadership students together for joint activities, Beal said. He is also the athletic co-director with Analy’s Joe Ellwood and a member of the rebranding committee composed of staff and the randomly selected student design team from both schools.
Roan urged the board to commit to unifying the students and rebranding by renaming the school, maintaining consolidation and rebranding must go together.
“It was a punch in the gut at the last board meeting when the board voted to pause the rebranding process. One board member stated it felt rushed. Well, this all feels rushed, why should the rebrand feel any different?” he asked.
The survey sent to students, staff and community members at the start of the rebranding process yielded over 800 responses with feedback on a new mascot, colors and name, he said.
Minus about half calling to keep the name Analy or El Molino, around 250 of the remaining 400 responses suggested West County High or something similar, according to Roan, and the students chose to give the green light.
“Yes, it is simple, but it is accurate, and I believe it also reflects an identity. We are west county, from Sebastopol to Cazadero to Timber Cove,” he said.
Several students stated their frustration with the May 5 vote to postpone rebranding for the consolidated school and Roan read letters from two more students.
Solange Anjeh, the sophomore vice president of Analy’s ASB leadership class, said she didn’t want to feel like her time had gone to waste. She said she wanted people to consider how holding off on rebranding would appear to students starting the coming school year, concerned about a potentially hostile environment.
“As an Analy student, I’m excited to have these new people, this chance to meet these hundreds of new people, and I’d hate for them to come in feeling hostile and sad. I want them to feel like this can be their home as well as it is mine now,” Anjeh said.
Tyler Sword, junior class co-president at El Molino, said rebranding needs to happen if the trustees are serious about unity and at the very least rename the school. “I and countless other students are both disheartened and frustrated with this decision,” he said.
“If changing the school mascot and colors is what poses the economic concern, then so be it. At this point, I couldn’t care less if I’m a blue tiger next year. The board has already taken everything from me and El Molino,” Sword said. “I’ve accepted the blatant misrepresentation, but I will not accept the board promoting an unsafe, un-unified high school for my senior year.”
El Molino senior and ASB president Brooklynn Hayes said she felt angry and deeply disappointed that the board chose to postpone the work she and others spent hours doing for weeks.
The consolidation as a whole felt rushed and lacking thought, Hayes said, requesting the board revote to consolidate over a year and seek student input before making decisions.
“To be honest, there’s nothing that will make El Molino students comfortable going to Analy, especially after they’ve heard about rebranding and looking forward to somewhat of a new campus, and now that’s gone down the drain,” she said. “Without rebranding, what plans do you have to make our students all feel welcomed into a sound, cooperative and welcoming community?”
Sports uniforms to be ordered soon
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking to order interim athletic uniforms by the fall, said Joe Ellwood, Analy social sciences teacher and athletic co-director. He said the longer the district waits, the more expensive temporary uniforms would be in winter or spring.
Ellwood said the plan he discussed with Roan was to get basic, temporary uniforms in black and white with patches or other symbolism to recognize both schools on one shared uniform. A new name would be key, while colors and mascots could be determined later on, according to Ellwood.
Ellwood did not offer a cost estimate, but said uniforms for the entire athletic program had been budgeted for when Trustee Laurie Fadave asked if the budget could cover the cost.
Interim Chief Business Official (CBO) Anne Barron said she believes the district has the money.
She confirmed the district’s fiscal recovery plan included consolidation savings that were reduced by the rebranding cost with new uniforms estimated by former CBO Jeff Ogston.
Barron said the uniforms are the most expensive to rebrand, which Ogston had projected to be $170,000 or $175,000 at the March 18 board meeting.
“Regardless of what we do, we have to get new uniforms. Our sports teams are going to have to wear uniforms unless we’re going to wear t-shirts with sharpie marker numbers on them or something,” Ellwood said.
The trustees, with Board President Kellie Noe absent, were receptive to these ideas and directed the superintendent to go forth with West County High School “as a bridge name” and bring the rebranding process back for discussion and potential action at the May 26 board meeting.
However, Trustee Julie Aiello voiced concern that choosing to rebrand before seeing how the lawsuit with the Community Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE) turns out “seems fiscally irresponsible.”
She said, “I still don’t know the total cost for rebranding. I don’t know the cost for the lawsuit and those are issues I have to be concerned with as a member of this board.”
Neither does she know how many El Molino students feel uneasy heading to the Analy campus in the fall or how much renaming the school would make a difference, Aiello said.
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