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Ashland wants public feedback on school name change

Residents have a month to weigh in on replacement options for ‘John Muir’

Members of the Ashland School Board agreed Wednesday to hold off voting on a new name for the John Muir Outdoor School until next month so that Ashland families of children who might consider attending can weigh in on two suggestions.

The board chose that route after a renaming committee issued its report offering “Ashland Outdoor School” and “TRAILS Outdoor School” as the two names that JMOS faculty, staff and students support.

The new name was considered necessary, because John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club, later became known as someone who had harbored offensive attitudes toward Native Americans.

During the Wednesday night board meeting, JMOS Principal Jennifer Parks praised the work of the committee members who worked to fulfill their mission by the school board to find a replacement name for JMOS. The school is temporarily housed at Lincoln School on Beach Street while students and staff wait for its eventual permanent home, Ashland Middle School, to complete renovations.

“I know we had seven Zoom meetings, but the commitment was so much greater than that,” Parks said. “Everyone, how much they gave their time and energy to this process — I have so much gratitude.”

Just weeks earlier, Parks and her JMOS constituents had considered the two names, including TRAILS, which stands for Trust, Respect, Awareness, Interdependency, Leadership, Stewardship. They chose those two names after narrowing it down from the committee’s four suggestions, which also included Southern Oregon Outdoor School and River Crossing Outdoor School.

“Our students were particularly passionate about this topic,” Parks told the board. “We had first- and second-grade students who would normally write a couple of sentences filling the page with their very passionate plea for their name, their rationale.”

Andrea Townsend, the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion officer, told board members at the Wednesday meeting that she would work on a plan to let members of the Ashland community know they are encouraged to sound off on the two name suggestions.

Board members were explicit that feedback on the matter should only be generated from residents of the city.

Board member Sabrina Prud'homme thanked members of the committee and Townsend for her “incredible leadership and organization skills for chaotic thought.”

“We could go all over the place and she could harness our creative ideas or chaotic ideas — whatever they were — and really kept us within our rubric and the goals that we defined,” said Prud'homme, who has a child of her own attending JMOS. “I know I certainly am grateful for every big and small contribution that every single person made to help our community, our school, our board, get us to where we are.”

Deciding to rename JMOS

The JMOS renaming committee was born from district policy that outlines the process for renaming a school.

Last year, another committee issued a report to the school board examining all of the district’s facilities named after people. While many of those names were problematic to this committee, it recommended JMOS be renamed first. Muir — the person credited with creating the national parks system — had “negative attitudes toward Native Americans and people of color,” the committee’s report said.

With that, the school board unanimously approved that JMOS be renamed.

The committee’s work did not start until February of this year, when Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove announced that Ashland residents could not only join the group, but submit suggestions for new names.

“We are excited to choose a new name that will inspire our students to be the change they want for the world through integrity, dedication and the knowledge that we all can contribute to the betterment of our society through our diverse talents and perspectives,” Bogdanove wrote in his letter to the community at the time.

Deliberations / name scoring

The committee had more than 100 suggestions from community members, though some were scrubbed from further consideration — from “Hot Dog” to “Star Wars” — because they did not have anything to do with the district’s or the school’s mission, according to a report submitted by the group.

The committee report revealed that despite JMOS being named after Muir, a new personal namesake was “not eliminated” from discussions. However, it noted several members “expressed hesitation” about choosing a person’s name because it “risks future inferences that reveal problematic characteristics or behaviors.”

The committee considered a number of Native/Indigenous names, but it noted that “could be deemed irresponsible and potentially perpetuates the violence inherent to the aforementioned histories.”

What’s more, SOU associate professor Brook Colley, chair of the Native American Studies program at Southern Oregon University, and one of her graduate students who served on the JMOS renaming committee, “brought awareness” to the proceedings, saying that “even the most well-intentioned non-Natives” can stumble in their attempts to show reverence for Native American cultures.

So, after ditching some suggested names and ruling out other criteria, the committee used a scoring rubric and came up with four finalists: Ashland Outdoor School, Southern Oregon Outdoor School, River Crossing Outdoor School and TRAILS.

“We set out to find not simply someone else in history to honor, but to identify a name that would honor the past, present and future students of the school, with its nature-based identity, and a name that would withstand the tests and weathering of time,“ the committee wrote in its report.

After letting the JMOS community examine the four suggested names, school Principal Jennifer Parks told the committee a majority at the school were in agreement — TRAILS Outdoor School should be the top recommendation put to the school board.

The committee’s report said TRAILS “resonated with and without the acronym.“ Though the only pitfall JMOS constituents noted is that the name could be perceived as an “outdoor adventure school.”

“We are proud of the process to make this impactful decision and are excited to embrace our new name once the board has made their decision, regardless of if it is our first or second choice,” Parks wrote in a letter to constituents.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.