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What should Lincoln high school in Air Park be named? Official process begins
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What should Lincoln high school in Air Park be named? Official process begins

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Ready, set, go.

A committee charged with soliciting suggestions and recommending a name for the new high school in northwest Lincoln met Monday, the first of three committees that will start the naming process for three new schools being built as part of a $290 million bond issue voters passed in February.

The other two committees will make recommendations on names for a new high school in southeast Lincoln and a new elementary school in northeast Lincoln.

The northwest high school, on the southern end of Air Park north of the interstate, is slated to open in 2022, as is the elementary school. The other high school, near the South Beltway at 70th Street and Saltillo Road, is expected to open in 2023.

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LPS policy sets out, in broad terms, the selection process, which includes creating the ad hoc committees that solicit nominations from the community then make a recommendation to the school board. The board, which recommended members for the ad hoc committees, makes the final decision.

But committees have quite a bit of leeway in just how that happens, and the group, which gathered for the first time Monday via Zoom, wanted student input to be a priority.

Willie Shafer, a retired teacher who served on the school board in the 1970s and was part of the committee that helped select names for North Star and Southwest 20 years ago, said students played an integral part in selecting those names, particularly North Star.

Then, the naming process coincided with a presidential election, so LPS included a question about high school names as part of the student vote that happens during each presidential election.

This time, the process isn’t happening at the same time as an election, but it’s still important to involve students, she said.

“Sometimes kids have ideas adults don’t even think of,” she said. “I guess I feel like we need to keep the kids involved. It’s going to be their school.”

Committee members agreed finding ways to involve students — either through social studies classes or online access to nomination forms on their Chromebooks or having student councils get involved — was important.

Dayna Krannawitter, who coordinates Arnold Elementary School's Community Learning Center and the resource center in Air Park, said soliciting names could be part of a “community cafe” hosted by the CLC and neighborhood advisory group.

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Krannawitter said CLCs around the city also would be a good way to involve students.

The group also said nominations should be funneled through an online process on the district’s website, which is what occurred in the most recent school naming processes.

LPS policy says the committee can consider names of individuals, living or dead, who have contributed to education or the Lincoln community, as well as neighborhoods where the schools will be located.

Typically, elementary and middle schools are named after people or neighborhoods, and most of the high schools carry directional names. That tradition will be challenging this time around, at least with the school at 70th Street and Saltillo Road, given that the district already has a Southeast High School.

Shafer pointed out that North Star ended up with that name — not simply a directional title — because of students who voted for it.

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Whether to choose directional names for North Star and Southwest became one of the flashpoints 20 years ago.

Rich Claussen, with local firm Olsson, asked how it will work if the two high school committees take different approaches with the process and with final recommendations. 

Ed Board member Don Mayhew, who chairs the northwest high school naming committee and serves on the one for the southeast school, said he can act as a conduit of information, though each committee is free to come up with its own process.

The other two committees will need to meet this week before a timeline on soliciting suggestions is finalized, but Liz Standish, associate superintendent for business affairs, suggested Feb. 8-28.

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Kathy Danek, president of the LPS board, said earlier that she’d like to have recommendations to the board so it can decide by sometime in the spring.

Board member Annie Mumgaard said the process could be a good community-building activity, a point of celebration and way to focus on the future.

Naming a school is always a big deal — naming a high school even more so — a point Mayhew made as the meeting ended.

“Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to make history,” he said.

MARGARET REIST PICKS FIVE EDUCATION STORIES FROM 2020: 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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