List of possible school names is narrowed down to six

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Palo Alto school board last night ruled out renaming Terman and Jordan middle schools after geographic features of the city, and will be going with two of the six historic Palo Altans selected by the district’s renaming committee.

Trustees Melissa Baten Caswell, Jennifer DiBrienza and Terry Godfrey said that each school ought to be renamed after one of the six notable Palo Altans selected by the committee.

But trustees Todd Collins and Ken Dauber said they favored giving the schools geographic names — Adobe Creek for Terman and Redwood Grove for Jordan.

The board decided last year to rename the schools because their namesakes, Lewis Terman and David Starr Jordan, were part of the eugenics movement. Collins suggested that instead of putting a name on the school, each of the six should be memorialized with plaques and a display inside the schools. He also suggested additional exhibits for other notable Palo Altans too.

One notable Palo Altan he mentioned was Fred Terman, who, along with his father, Lewis, is one of the namesakes for Terman Middle School. But due to potential confusion about which one the school is named after, keeping the name Terman was ruled out. Fred Terman was a Stanford provost and an electronics engineer.

Godfrey said that until yesterday morning, she favored naming the schools after geographic features. But during the day, she changed her mind and felt that having “real people be role models” is the right answer to the renaming situation.

A namesake can be an inspiration

Baten Caswell agreed with Godfrey, and said she went to a high school named after the woman who started it, and everyone at the school knew who its namesake was.

“I’m convinced that having the name of a person (as the schools namesake) is an inspiration,” Baten Caswell said.
Baten Caswell also said she wanted to poll the current families, teachers and students at Terman and Jordan to see how they reacted to the names the district’s renaming committee selected.

But none of the other board members supported the idea of polling the two schools, either saying it was too late in the process to do so, or that the renaming effort ought to involve the entire community, not just the smaller communities of the two schools.

“I don’t think of these two schools as belonging to the people there right now,” said DiBrienza.

DiBrienza also said that the students currently at Terman and Jordan will only be there for one to three more years, while a school’s name will transcend the people currently there for decades to come.

Recommended names

A citizens committee appointed by the board recommended naming the schools after the following people: Anna Zschokke, who built Palo Alto’s first school house in the 19th century; Hewlett-Packard co-founder Bill Hewlett; Edith Johnson, the city’s first female doctor; prominent black engineer Frank Greene; bicycle activist and Palo Alto councilwoman Ellen Fletcher, and Fred Yamamoto, a Paly graduate who was held in a Japanese internment camp and later fought in World War II. The name of Maryam Mirzakhani, a theoretical mathematician at Stanford who died of cancer in 2009, was originally on the committee’s list but was removed for unknown reasons before last night’s meeting.

Final choice due later this month

The board did not pick a name yesterday, but some board members stated their preferences. While Collins and Dauber both said they preferred the geographical names, DiBrienza said she liked Johnson, Fletcher, Greene and Yamamoto while Godfrey said she favored Yamamoto and Zschokke. Baten Caswell said she liked any of the six historical figures’ names.

The board is slated to pick new names for Terman and Jordan at its March 27 meeting.


  1. Re-naming schools shouldn’t be the focus of the school board right now. We have sex offenders being allowed into schools, and students being sexually assaulted. I almost wonder if the board is doing this to distract people from their other mistakes?

    • It is crystal clear to me whose names should be chosen for our schools in Palo Alto. The emphasis should be on the contributions of people to Palo Alto.

      1. Anna Zschokke, who built the first school in Palo Alto, a female educator!
      2. Bill Hewlett, a technology pioneer and giant. Do I need to say more about Hewlett and Packer (HP) and Palo Alto?

      Ralph T Cheng
      869 Embarcadero Rd, PA, CA 94303

  2. I’d like to see these schools named after geographic features rather than names or, when we name them after people, what happens when we find something in their past that we find undesirable. We’ll have to go through this again.

  3. The name Yamamoto strikes fear in many people’s hearts. There was the Japanese master strategist Yamamoto who
    planned the Pearl Harbor attack and lots of other Pacific attacks during WWII. He was more than qualified as a war criminal who died before the Tokyo Trial. Certain names evoke sufferings & death although not the same person.
    Can we give some consideration in this aspect when selecting names for our schools?

  4. Exactly! They used the very reason that “last name matters” when the son Terman is proposed to be the meaning for Terman middle school. Now some genius proposed Yamamoto! How do you think those soldiers buried in Pearl Harbor would think? How do you think those millions of people killed in World War II would think?

  5. I think the school board has more important things to do than rename schools. The district seems to be in crisis as it grapples with sex offenders and searches for a number of top administrators including the Paly principal and district superintendent. When the turmoil ends, the board might have the free time to make a wise decision on these names, but now it seems they’re distracted with all of the crisis boiling.

  6. I strongly support renaming Terman Adobe Creek and Jordan Redwood; i.e., after the geographic locations, not people.

    Terman was not an issue for 99% of people​,​ as most did not even know who​m​ Lewis Terman was. However, for those who knew and cared, the name carried significant​ negative​ weight. So let’s not make the same mistake twice. Let’s name the school after its location, instead of a person.

    Furthermore, as a Chinese American, I ​am appalled by the suggestion to nam​e​ my beloved middle school Yamamoto. I understand and respect why Fred Yamamoto ​is being considered. However, the very first ​person “Yamamoto​”​ ​brought to my mind was “Isoroku Yamamoto”, ​the major WWII criminal who​ bom​b​ed Pearl Harbor and killed 2,335 US soldiers in that battle alone!​

    ​Beyond myself, ​I also asked around about what people think when given the name Yamamoto. Majority of the people came up with Isoroku Yamamoto. I cannot imagine the negative image this name will project on our middle schools.

    Therefore, I strongly support renaming Terman Adobe Creek and Jordan Redwood Grove!

    ​Many thanks for your consideration!

    • The people who were killed were mostly sailors, not soldiers.
      A million Chinese soldiers joined the Japanese Army in 1944 and fought against the United States and Chiang Kai-shek. Ever heard of Operation Ichi-Go?

  7. I felt extremely uncomfortable when I heard the school would be renamed Yamamoto. Even though I know Yamamoto is a common Japanese surname, the name always makes me think about Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese who planned and directed the attack on Pearl harbour.

    I believe I am not alone in this case. If you google Yamamoto, the first search result is Isoroku Yamamoto. Naming the school “Yamamoto” is similar as naming the school “Osama”. Even if it is a common name and the name of many honorable people, the reality is that some people will feel very uncomfortable and be offended with it.

    I urge you to reconsider it!

    • You feel very uncomfortable knowing that many Japanese-Americans were U.S. war heroes. Admit it. My son’s best friend’s wife in Chinese. My wife asked her. “Was your family for China or Mao?” The Chinese girl replied. “my family was for JAPAN.” So were several million other Chinese. They fought extremely well to kick the bao lian and the hong hu zhi out of China.

      • Dear John,
        Please read the Chinese history. She’s not a Chinese. She must be a Taiwanese who’s not going to admit she’s Chinese. Japan ruled Taiwan for so long and forced Chinese who lived in Taiwan to change their names to be Japanese. Many Taiwan-Chinese forgot they were Chinese but proud to be Japanese. There were many who were forced to fight for Japan. There were many who were proud to fight for Japan. Those are the people who don’t admit they are Chinese but Taiwanese and want to be independent.

  8. Bill Hewlett was one of the people in Palo Alto who made the most significant impact in the development of the City, technology, business and culture. He was a model for innovation, modesty and philanthropy in the local community. It is my belief that Hewlett was one of those local guys who made huge contribution to Palo Alo, therefor it is fitting for a school to be named after.

    Unless you are sure the renamed school’s names will be lasting for a long time, you should consider more generic, like geographic names. Otherwise, some people in future will have to face a situation that they will be spending time and money again in trying to correct your decisions.

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