BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
After more than two hours of debate and impassioned comments from more than 65 members of the public late last night (March 27), the Palo Alto school board settled on new names for Jordan and Terman middle schools.
The board voted unanimously at about 11:30 p.m. to rename Terman after former Palo Alto Councilwoman, Holocaust survivor and bicycle advocate Ellen Fletcher and Jordan after Frank Greene, a black Silicon Valley engineer who started a venture capital firm to invest in the businesses of women and people of color.
Board President Ken Dauber said that honoring Palo Alto figures who had been victims of discrimination was in the spirit of the exercise of renaming the schools, which kicked off a year ago when the board decided to do away with the names of Jordan and Terman because both their namesakes, David Starr Jordan and Lewis Terman, were eugenics advocates. Board trustee Melissa Baten Caswell also said that Fletcher should be honored for her volunteerism.
“Forty years of volunteering, of giving your time for no pay, is a pretty big deal,” Baten Caswell said. “That is something we want to hold up for our kids, how important it is to give back.”
About the new namesakes
Board trustee and Barron Park resident Todd Collins pointed out that Fletcher lived in south Palo Alto, which some argue has been underrepresented in civic life.
Fletcher served on City Council from 1977 to 1989, but was never elected mayor. She served as vice mayor in 1981. The Bryant Street Bicycle Boulevard is named after her.
Collins said he was partial to Greene for his technical and entrepreneurial achievements, including holding a patent for the design of what was the fastest memory chip at its time, but expressed doubts about the depth of his involvement in Palo Alto.
“He was not a resident of Palo Alto. He didn’t live here. He didn’t send his kids to school here,” Collins said. “He wasn’t a part of the life of the community in the same way that the others were. He wasn’t civically engaged in the way the others were.”
Sara Woodham, a school district parent who served on the Recommending School Names Advisory Committee and performed much of the historic research, said that Greene’s connection to Palo Alto was through Fairchild Semiconductor.
The venture capital firms that he formed were headquartered in downtown Palo Alto, Woodham said. Greene also spent a couple of years in the electrical engineering department at Stanford.
“For us, Frank Greene definitely met that test of being connected to Palo Alto,” Woodham said.
Board Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza urged Greene’s name to be chosen because he was one of the only two people of color on the list of six names.
Committee’s racial makeup
Some residents raised concerns about the racial makeup of the committee, which included no Asian or Latino members despite that those two groups together comprise 48% of the school district. The district is 36% Asian and 12% Latino.
Baten Caswell said the district had done a thorough job trying to recruit committee members, stating that former Superintendent Max McGee had taken to the Chinese social media app WeChat to try to recruit individual community members for the committee.
The other person of color on the list, Palo Alto High School graduate Fred Yamamoto, had been eliminated in response to dozens of pleas for and against the name.
Yamamoto was held in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, then enlisted in the army and died in combat.
Many public commenters were Chinese immigrants who spoke about the bad memories that the name Yamamoto would stir up because it reminded them of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese admiral who masterminded the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Residents and board members alike acknowledged the rift that the name had created in Palo Alto.
“The last name Yamamoto triggers painful feeling and painful memory,” Amanda Chi said. “I think your role and mission should not lead you to choose a name of controversy.”
Many residents claimed that the board’s decision to remove the name Terman, despite that Lewis Terman’s son Fred Terman had no connection to the eugenics movement, created a double standard for Chinese residents’ relationship to the name Yamamoto, though Fred Yamamoto had no relationship to Isoroku Yamamoto other than sharing the fourth most common Japanese surname.
Some first-, second- and third-generation Chinese-Americans voiced support of the Yamamoto name.
“We’re just perpetuating the discrimination. We’re discriminating based on a name,” Patty Lee said.
Others, including Japanese-Americans, spoke in favor of the Yamamoto name.
“This is an American story about an American patriot that gave his life for his country,” World War II veteran Lawson Sakai said. “Fred Yamamoto became a prisoner of war in his own country, the United States. But Fred Yamamoto did not turn his back on his country.”
Well, no PIE donation this year.
There was nothing wrong with Terman and Jordan. Eugenics wasn’t a major part of either man’s life, but it’s something that today — for the sake of political correctness — we’re amplifying. Hope the social justice warriors feel good. They accomplished something yesterday that would make Mao and Stalin proud.
What a waste of money! We should be using our district’s scarce resources on educating children, not changing names so that we can appear to be more Progressive than other school districts.
I agree with PA, no PIE donation this year. And I won’t be voting for the bond issue, either.
A couple of corrections. Fairchild was never in Palo Alto. It started in Mountain View and later was in Sunnyvale. Today the headquartered are in San Jose.
If the school board is honoring Greene because of his connection to Fairchild, I think there would be better choices. Shockley is out because he promoted eugenics. Too bad because he got the Nobel Prize for inventing semiconductors and transistors, which have literally changed the world.
But there are eight men who bolted from Fairchild and Shockley, whose inventions and companies were the foundation of modern electronics. They’re known as traitorous eight. Among them were Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. If the school board is trying to make a connection to Shockley’s old company, they should have honored one of these eight.
In reading the renaming committee’s written recommendations, I am unclear about Greene’s connection to Palo Alto. I guess he’s considered to be a Palo Altan because he had a venture capital office in town. Doesn’t seem like a strong connection to me, but maybe I’m being picky.
I really doubt that changing the names will only cost $50,000, not the way our school district and city spend money. I remember a couple of years ago how the city spent something like $350,000 on new signs for City Hall. I suspect the school board was low-balling us with the $50,000 figure so they could avoid objections over the cost, but will reveal a higher figure now that the names have been changed.
This is a sad day for Palo Alto. The lesson for children in the PAUSD got is that you can re-write history you don’t like. This fall, I’m not voting for either incumbent, Dauber or Godfrey. Time for a change.
The decision and the process leading up to it leave me disappointed. Only one Asian-American name made the short list of six, and he was a Japanese American who unfortunately had the same last name as that of a Japanese World War II commander who was reviled by Chinese and Korean residents. I think the renaming committee and the school board could have worked harder to find an appropriate Asian role model for whom one of the schools could be named.
Secondly, the committee didn’t have any Asian-Americans on it, even though our district is 36% Asian. Not enough was done to find Asians to serve on this committee. The board should have waited to rename the schools until it had a proper committee. Instead, the board was so headstrong to make a “statement” that it ignored its own policies and barrelled ahead. (And it’s a little late to talk about the flaws in this committee just minutes before you accept their recommendation.)
I feel like these choices are a slap in the face to the Asian community, especially Chinese Americans. But, sadly, it’s what I’ve come to expect from the school district.
Although I am glad that both Frank Greene and Ellen Fletcher were chosen — two people who would have been viewed as inferior humans by Jordan and Terman — I wish I could celebrate this occasion without the disruption a few parents caused during the renaming process. It is sad that a small fraction of parents eliminated the chances of having Palo Alto’s first school named after an Asian-American. It is with deep hypocrisy to say that there is a need for more Asian representation whilst eliminating the one nominee who could have bolstered that need.
I hope that these parents realize and take full responsibility in their creation of an unnecessary fissure within the Asian community. By demonizing the Yamamoto name they are sending a clear message that all Americans including children named Yamamoto are dismissed as a “deeply painful reminder of World War II”, despite what each individual has achieved. If a war hero like Fred Yamamoto who received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for fighting Nazis and being killed as a result of that doesn’t “redeem” his name, then who else can? This is very shameful.
The lack of Asian-Americans on the renaming committee is sad and ridulous. It explains why the board got the insensitive nomination of somebody named Yamamoto. He may have been a local war hero but his last name would have been an insult to many in Palo Alto. It’s sad that Yamamoto was the only Asian name the committee recommended. This school board needs to do better to represent everyone in the district.
what a waste of time and money … this school board has so many problems right now, it’s crazy to waste time on this … I’m voting NO on the bond measure in November
I’m glad the board did this. It took a lot of courage, but this was the right thing to do. Eugenics was a terrible thing and this is the right statement to make. I’m proud of our city today!
The school board didn’t follow its own rules when it picked the renaming committee. The committee is supposed to reflect the racial composition of the district, yet it had no Asian or Latino representation. The board discovered this fault just minutes before voting on the committee’s recommendations on Tuesday night. Why didn’t the board see this flaw earlier and put the process on hold until additional members could be appointed to this committee? Discovering such an important flaw just minutes before the final vote is terrible. Going forward knowing about this flaw is even worse. We really need to replace these people on the school board. They’re incompetent if they didn’t realize this committee was flawed earlier. And they’re corrupt if, once they discovered the flaw, went forward anyway, as if it weren’t important. Godfrey and Dauber are up for re-election in November. I’m voting them out.
Dauber voted to delay the name change so more people could be added to the committee. He was out voted on that motion.
It’s funny that a community that prides itself on political correctness, “diversity” and inclusion could come up with an offensive name like Yamamoto.