Herman: Now the hard part, picking new names for schools

Now that we’ve decided what names we don’t want on five Austin ISD facilities, it behooves us to decide what names we do want on those facilities.

Let’s not relitigate the wisdom of removing Confederate-related names, a concept I support though I’m still concerned about retropunishing John H. Reagan for being the Confederacy’s postmaster general.

No, forward-looking guy that I am (except when parallel parking), I’m ready to move on to picking new names for the facilities now named for certified bad humans John T. Allan, Zachary Taylor Fulmore, Sidney Lanier, Albert Sidney Johnston and the aforementioned postal worker.

AISD is giving you until March 16 to submit suggestions. In general, the problem with inviting public input is that it invites public input.

But, as a member of the public, my input would be that Wilhelmina Delco’s name should be on a school. Back in 1968, she became the first African American on the Austin school board and from 1975-95 she was a distinguished member of the Texas House (yes, they do have that kind) and spent a lot of time and energy on education matters. She also served on the Austin Community College board.

There’s a hitch in my suggestion because the rules say the five facilities can’t be renamed for anybody whose name already is on an AISD facility. Delco, along with husband Exalton, is one of the Delcos for whom AISD’s Delco Center, a recreational facility in Northeast Austin, is named. Here’s my plan: The Delco Center retains that name, but only for Mr. Delco. Ms. Delco gets her name on a school and gets to cut the ribbon at the renaming ceremony.

I’m now told the Pflugerville ISD has a Delco Primary School. Austin also should have one named for her.

Under the AISD rules, any suggested honoree “must embody exemplary qualities that can serve as a model of excellence and should adhere to the district’s core beliefs and values” and “must have made a significant contribution, which may include a financial donation, to the district, local community, state, or nation or have a connection to the district.”

And, because Austin, there’s this: “Austin ISD strongly discourages nominations that are vulgar in nature or use profanity or inappropriate/foul language.” So, my late great friend John Kelso, whatever you’re thinking up there, please keep it to yourself. (And shouldn’t South Austin have a John Kelso Prep School, prepping kids on how to prepare barbecue?)

We went down the renaming road not all that long ago and it provides a teaching moment as we go through it again. Back in 2016 AISD needed a new name for Robert E. Lee Elementary. More than 240 suggestions poured in, some serious and some from some seriously messed-up folks. I’ll let you figure out which of these belongs in which of those categories.

Forty-five people suggested then-presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. Thirty-two suggested Russell Lee Elementary. Thirty suggested Harper Lee Elementary. Russell Lee, a noted photographer who died in 1986, was the eventual winner.

The 2016 competition showed people were thinking. What they were thinking is unclear. Behold some suggestions:

Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance, Austin Taliban Elementary School, Barack Hussein Obama Elementary School, Bleeding Heart Liberal Elementary, Communist Elementary, Feel Good Elementary, Flava-Flav Elementary, Forgetting Your Past Dooms You to Repeat It Elementary, Fred Cantu Elementary.

Also, Generic School Name, Hypothetical Perfect Person Memorial Elementary School, Kanye West Elementary, Kim Il Sung Elementary, Politically Correct Elementary School #1, School of Progressive and Socialist Studies, Schoolie McSchoolface, Schooly McSchoolerson, Schooly McSchoolerton and The Elementary School Formerly Known as Robert E. Lee.

My favorite suggestion was P.S. 1. I’m biased here (and everywhere). I’m a proud alum of Brooklyn’s P.S. 99, also the alma mater of Allan Stewart Konigsberg (later known as Woody Allen). We like to tell a little joke that he still dates girls at P.S. 99. Please don’t tell him we tell that little joke.

Some of us thought our numbered schools were named for inmates. And we had school songs about numbers: “We have a school in Midwood. They call it 99. It stands for all that’s helpful and everything that’s fine. Its boys and girls are jolly. You’ll not see us repine … .”

Much later in life, I learned that repine means “to be fretfully discontented.” The Konigsberg kid was older than me and we didn’t cross paths at P.S. 99. But I’m guessing that, contrary to the school song, he was periodically fretfully discontented.

P.S. 99 still is P.S. 99 but long after I left it also took on another name — the Isaac Asimov School for Science and Literature. Here’s hoping its boys and girls remain jolly.

So I encourage you to fill the AISD inbox with good ideas for school names. I’ve heard several people toss Willie Nelson’s name into consideration. Austinite Sheri Alexander added this thought about that: “As long as it’s referred to as ‘Willie Nelson High.’”

See above re the dangers of inviting public input.

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