WSCUHSD to rebrand high school
By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 17, 2021
Now that the district is consolidating El Molino and Analy students on the Analy campus, it’s planning to rebrand the school with a new name, new colors and a new mascot. And, predictably, folks from both campuses — parents, students, alumni — are furious.
The West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) board knew it was facing a lot of opposition to its consolidation plans at the March 16 meeting, but that didn’t stop them from voting to move forward with rebranding the remaining schools to help move the district forward and create some sense of unity among the communities being forced together.
“We are very early in the rebranding process and know it might be multiple years before everything is rebranded at all sites,” said Jennie Bruneman, Director of Facilities and Bond Construction Management in a March 17 email.
One rebranding conversation is about how to combine the communities of Analy and El Molino, by creating a new name, new mascot and colors and more. The other is about lifting Laguna High School out of the tendrils of its former reputation to help it be seen as a new entity with new programs and offerings.
Students from Analy and El Molino will come together at the campus currently housing Analy and Laguna, and Laguna and the district offices will move to the El Molino campus.
Superintendent Toni Beal said that following the board’s decision to consolidate at a previous meeting, the district’s unity committee, comprised of representatives from all three schools and the district office, voted unanimously to recommend the rebranding to foster unity between the Analy and El Molino communities as one school.
She assured the board and attendees that this approval meant the district could begin the rebranding process but not decide the school’s new name, colors or mascot. However, details of cost and time are not yet known, according to district staff.
Cost for rebranding unknown
“I mean, we have some guesstimates, but we haven’t had the opportunity to put together a full framework of what it would take to rebrand the facility,” Bruneman said.
Beal said her understanding was the $91 million Measure A bond passed in 2018 and other funding sources would pay for the rebranding. “If it’s physically attached to the building or can be part of the structure, then the bond funds can pay for that expense,” Bruneman said.
School logos on the field are about $25,000 and marquees and scoreboards can both cost over $20,000 based on type and size, she said.
“So, if the mascot or colors were similar, say perhaps blue and red or wildcats, we could be inventive in terms of reducing some costs depending on what the decision is in terms of the name or mascot or colors,” Beal said.
Chief Business Official Jeff Ogston said new team sports uniforms could cost $170,000 or $175,000.
He said the district had initially projected higher cost savings from consolidation, but that the most recent estimate had come down to an estimated $1.2 million when factoring for the subsequent costs for rebranding, he said.
Several community members pointed to the lack of a clear estimate as evidence that the consolidation process is a rushed one that would have benefited from another year to thoughtfully plan the transition.
Community still unhappy
Leslie McCormick supported rebranding, despite her anger at the consolidation. “It’s absolutely necessary. We are being evicted and banned from our home,” she said, adding keeping El Molino’s name or getting a new name was “the least we could do”
Some questioned whether the Measure A bond could fund the changes since taxpayers didn’t approve the bond with any knowledge of consolidation or related costs. Trustee Julie Aiello shared the concern of signing a blank check, though she said she supported rebranding.
Analy parent Bonny Russell Larrain said she believes the district is “losing the trust of the public when using the money without forethought,” adding that she agreed on the importance of welcoming El Molino but uncertainty around whether using bond money was the right approach.
Many attendees were also concerned that students weren’t being consulted in the process, though Beal said the unity committee would move to engage students, staff and community after spring break.
She said some of the unity committee would consult students for a name, mascot and colors while other members would work to unify staff and curriculum and yet others would engage both communities to preserve their histories and traditions somehow.
Some Analy community members in attendance voiced their concern that the rebranding would jeopardize the school’s historic value, which was not well-received by a number of El Molino attendees facing the loss of their entire campus.
Jolene Johnson, an El Molino teacher and a member of the unity committee, said approval to rebrand “is a promise of compromise” between the schools and a decision that would demonstrate respect for El Molino in its loss, though she said she still wondered why El Molino wasn’t chosen as the receiving site.
Laguna High School looks towards new identity
Laguna Principal Allie Greene presented the case for Laguna to rebrand as well, to shed an image and perception from the community and others as it explores alternative programming.
Green said that she and the continuation high school students face the reputation that “Laguna is where the bad kids go” daily when the students are at-risk youth facing the trauma of being essentially booted from their comprehensive schools.
“We’ve been the safety net for the district and we’ve been successful with about 50% of our kids and then there’s 50% we’re not successful with. And then there’s kids sitting at the two comprehensive high schools right now who are not successful at those comprehensive high schools and they need something different and we need to be broader than just ‘Laguna where the bad kids go,’” she said.
Greene said that while the district community says it loves Laguna, the Facebook comments demonstrate the disdain for its students.
“And what makes me so frustrated and angry about that is when you talk about who Laguna kids are, like, we have the highest density of low income kids in the entire district, we have the highest density of special education, we have the highest density of foster/homeless youth and like, these are the kids who we as a community, a community that I’m a part of, are labelling as the bad kids, and that’s horrific,” she said.
Community members and the board expressed support for the program, although several attendees questioned whether the schools’ image could be an internal transformation that does not require external changes. Some speakers spoke during the topic to discuss how El Molino could relate to struggling with a rough reputation.
Beal stated that unlike the Analy and El Molino consolidation, the Laguna rebrand and move would have minimal costs.
This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com