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Phoenix-Talent School District to keep name

Just minutes before a crowd of Phoenix High School students planned to launch a protest at district offices, an announcement was made over the broadcast system that plans to change the name of the school had been called off.

The Phoenix-Talent School District created an uproar late last month when it proposed to change the name of the district, its high school and Talent Middle School to better reflect its boundaries and attract potential students.

The idea was met with a flood of phone calls, letters and Facebook campaigns in opposition, leading district officials to rethink their strategy.

"Strengthening the District's identity is an ongoing objective of the Board, and the proposal was developed to be more inclusive of the multiple communities within the District's boundaries," school officials said in a release posted Monday on the district's website.

"In recognition of the passionate response received, the School Board fully supports retaining the District name as the Phoenix-Talent School District," it said.

The district includes students from Phoenix, Talent, Medford and surrounding rural areas.

Senior Kya McAlister, sophomore Victoria Balzer and about 60 other students went ahead with the demonstration Monday anyway to show school spirit, they said.

"This was really important to us and I think they probably didn't want the negative media coverage, but the point was that we are just so proud of our school and we just want to make that known," McAlister said.

Balzer said it was "very confusing" that the district felt that a name change would promote unity or improve district pride.

"A name change would do the opposite of that," Balzer said.

"We obviously all care about our school because we spread the word (about the protest) in such a short amount of time and we had this many students show up."

School Board Chairman Craig Prewitt said the feedback the district has been getting "has been overwhelming."

"The message that we got was, 'Hey, what we've got is great, so if it isn't broken, don't fix it.' "

Prewitt said the purpose of the process that yielded the name change idea — to unify the district — had been accomplished.

"The objective for the process was to help unify the district and to clarify our identity," he said. "I was so proud of our district and our community to show the kind of pride and passion that they did. We had a lot of positive response from this process."

Principal Jani Hale challenged students who demonstrated in front of the high school to put their energy into making the district even better.

An educator for three decades, Hale said the students' concern for their school was heartwarming and that Phoenix High had "one of the most amazing" and most diverse populations of any school she had been involved with.

"Twenty percent of kids are in AP classes. Ten percent are in the band. We have different demographics than other schools in the valley, but there is an amazing sense of love and respect here," said Hale, noting that quality of education at any school is "hard to measure."

"You don't walk into a school and see a barometer that measures the feeling of safety or measures whether the kids are learning. All the legislators can do is measure test scores and statistics, but there's so much more to it than that."

Hale acknowledged officials' concern for keeping the district appealing to potential new students. The name change was one of a handful of suggestions made after the Oregon Legislature approved a new law allowing open enrollment. Ashland was the only school to adopt the new policy, and some 54 Phoenix-Talent students — along with $300,000 in funding — will transfer to Ashland next year.

Ashland originally said it could take up to 300 additional students.

"When Ashland tells the public, through news outlets, that they're going to take 300 kids, it's a concern," Hale said. "If they took all those from our district, that's $2 million.

"The intention of the committee was no less than to save this district. I think the lesson we've learned is that the kids love their school and that they are proud to be here. Sometimes you're not even aware of the emotions until maybe you're threatened a little."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.