DOWNEY - In recognition of Dr. Wendy Doty's service to the Downey Unified School District, the school board voted last month to rename East Middle School after the outgoing superintendent who started her teaching career at the campus nearly 30 years ago. "A number of us thought of it once she announced her retirement," said Donald LaPlante, president of the DUSD board of education. "We named buildings after the last three superintendents that retired so we all thought of it."
However, some local residents, including alumni, are petitioning the school board, protesting the name change in the hope of preserving the pride and tradition of the nearly 60-year-old middle school.
An online petition, created by Downey resident Sergio Vasquez, has garnered more than 170 signatures as of Thursday, but LaPlante defends the change as an appropriate and well-deserved honor.
"We wouldn't think of naming schools with names, but East and West, those are directions," LaPlante said. "It's the same school with a new name, Wendy Lopour Doty Middle School."
Interestingly enough, history reveals that the DUSD has a habit of naming its schools after local educators who have helped shape the legacy of the school district.
Before Downey schools consolidated under one unified school district, the city was split up into several districts with elementary, middle, and high schools under different jurisdictions.
During his tenure, Elbert Warren Ward provided sound leadership and vision for the growing Alameda School District.
In 1923, Ward became principal at Alameda Elementary School and would leave a lasting legacy at the school and the district.
After more than 15 years at Alameda Elementary, Ward went on to become the superintendent of the Alameda School District, ultimately retiring in 1955. But of all the elementary districts in Downey, Alameda grew to become the largest.
In honor of Ward, the E.W. Ward Elementary School was opened in 1952. The Alameda District also oversaw the construction of the Ed Lewis School in 1950, C.C. Carpenter School in 1952, and A. L. Gauldin School in 1956. Imperial School, named after the street it runs along, opened in 1954.
The Downey District meanwhile added Spencer V. Williams School, named in honor of a local educator, and Rio San Gabriel School, which was constructed near a river of the same name, in 1952. Years earlier, Rio Hondo Elementary School, named for the eponymous river nearby, was built along Rives Avenue.
Founded by early settlers that once occupied north Downey, Gallatin Elementary School was moved in 1893 to the site it still occupies today on the corner of Brookshire Avenue and Gallatin Road.
From 1937 to 1942, Maude Price and Edith Unsworth were the only teachers at Gallatin Elementary School. During this time, Mrs. Unsworth taught the lower grades and Mrs. Price taught the upper grades.
Both Price and Unsworth have schools now bearing their names as a testament to their influence on the Downey education system.
With the influx of new students, new junior high schools were needed. On May 1, 1952, South Junior High School was dedicated as the first separate junior high school. In July of 2001, South was renamed after Dr. Edward Sussman, former DUSD superintendent and principal at the school.
In 1953, students began attending North Junior High School, renamed Gordon Griffiths Middle School in 1966. Griffiths was principal of the school when he died earlier that year. East Junior High School was formed in 1954.
By 1957, a second senior high school, Earl Warren High School, named for United States Chief Justice Earl Warren, and a fourth junior high school, West Junior High School opened their doors.
In 1956, the elementary school districts merged with the Downey Union High School District, which established the junior high schools in the city, to create the Downey Unified School District known today.
When the school board announced its decision to rename East Middle School, LaPlante recalls Doty being quite emotional.
"She was tremendously honored," he said. "It's the highest honor as an educator to have a school named after you and East is the school where she started."
According to LaPlante, the change will take effect starting next school year.
"Over the summer we'll fix the signs and there will definitely be a ceremony in September where we'll unveil a plaque," he said. "Over time, everyone will understand this wasn't a random choice...students will be very happy once they get to know her."
********** Published: March 21, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 49