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Monday, April 13, 2020

Santa Maria-Bonita pushes off naming new school after unprecedented “virtual” meeting

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2020 at 8:41 PM

The Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s (SMBSD) April 8 meeting was highly anticipated by board members, district employees, and the community alike.

After receiving more than 100 submissions and months of narrowing them down, a naming committee created for the district’s new elementary school had settled on three top choices—Bill Libbon, Pleasant Valley, and Enos. The committee was ready to put the final decision into the hands of the school board.
click to enlarge FULL STEAM AHEAD Despite a delay in the naming process, the new Santa Maria-Bonita School District elementary school is still on track to be completed before next school year. - PHOTO COURTESY OF AMG CONTRACTORS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF AMG CONTRACTORS
  • FULL STEAM AHEAD Despite a delay in the naming process, the new Santa Maria-Bonita School District elementary school is still on track to be completed before next school year.

The last time that the district named a school, which was in 2015, the same process happened, and the board room was full,” SMBSD’s Public Information Officer Maggie White told the Sun. “It was standing room only, and we had easily an hour and a half worth of comment from people in favor of one particular name or another. … We were all looking forward to a repeat of that. Then, of course, the world changed.”

As COVID-19 spread through Santa Barbara County and public gatherings became a luxury of the past, the board opted for a virtual meeting on April 8. After two failed motions and plenty of discussion, the board decided they needed more time to make their final decision.

“It was a little difficult because it was the first board meeting that the board has held electronically. … It’s harder to have a conversation when you can’t necessarily see people and read their body language.,” White said. “I think that showed in the board’s ultimate decision not to make a decision.”

However, White said the board’s choice to postpone their final decision also exemplifies how significant and permanent an action it is to name a new school. While the coronavirus-related adjustments didn’t make it easier, White emphasized that the board wants to find a name that everyone can feel positive about.

“Our board also knows that naming a school is so important that it’s something they really all should be behind,” she said. “I think that the board will be looking in their own minds to see where they feel their decision lies and trying to find a compromise with the others.”

Dr. Patty Grady, head of the naming committee and a retired junior high principal, agreed that the indecision indicates the thoughtfulness of the board members rather than the difficulties of virtual communication. And despite no in-person community participation, people still found a way to fill the room virtually.

“YouTube comments were coming in like crazy,” she said. “Last time when we made this decision, we didn’t have a split with the board: It was pretty unanimous. So I don’t know that it would have looked any different. We might have still been in this same situation.”



Grady said that one reason why the decision might be so challenging this time around is that the top three options include both people and significant places. Grady said this split poses a larger question to the board: What does naming a school look like?

“Does it look like honoring Santa Maria history?” she asked. “Or does it look like honoring a ‘somebody’?”

A decision in favor of “William ‘Bill’ Libbon Elementary School” would honor a man who dedicated more than 40 years of his life to youth development as the executive director of the Santa Maria Boys and Girls Club, and who continues to be involved in the community today. “Pleasant Valley Elementary School” pays tribute to one of the first school houses built in Santa Maria, a structure that has been fully restored and is today a “living history,” as Grady called it. “Enos Elementary” would give a nod of acknowledgement to Enos Ranch, the plot of land where the new school is located: the Enos family purchased that land 115 years ago, and Grady said the family legacy lives on in Santa Maria to this day.

In short, the board has their work cut out for them.

Though the naming will have to wait another month, White said that the school’s construction timeline is moving forward right on schedule. While COVID-19 might delay the community celebration when it’s done, White said this is just a minor hiccup in the new school’s trajectory to completion.

“It’s always nice to have that big event where the community can come in and see the school: We do a ribbon cutting and have balloons and cake,” White said. “But that’s just the frosting, really. The essential part is that the school will open along with our other schools when that direction is given by the state or the county. We’ll pick another time when people can gather together and really celebrate.” ∆
—Malea Martin
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