For any number of reasons, a school district and its board may find itself in a situation in which they need to change the name of a school building. This may be due to a change of grade levels in a building, such as a former high school becoming a middle school. Or, a building may have a name attached to it that students or community members deem inappropriate.
Regardless of the circumstances, school leaders must communicate openly and proactively when moving forward with a school name change. They especially must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of alumni, who may feel particularly attached to the former name.
It's true that, no matter what you do, some alumni and community members will simply never support a school name change. However, there are some actions you can take to ensure your stakeholders know and understand the reason behind the change and the process the district and board used to move forward.
The consideration phase
A school or district should begin communicating and engaging their stakeholders as soon as it appears that a name change could be possible. To start, you may have your board president write and submit an op-ed to a local newspaper, explaining why a change may be necessary and how the board is going about considering the change.
If you have the means to reach your alumni more directly, such as through email or direct mail, take advantage of that ability as soon as you can.
At this stage, focus on being open and honest about the need for the change and how the district and board are working to ensure they receive ample feedback from alumni, students, staff, families and community members. Make clear that you understand that change can be difficult, and that the district and board will only take action if it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Additionally, it is often a good idea to conduct a community-wide survey at this point in the process, asking respondents to weigh in with their thoughts on a potential name change.
The action phase
Once the district and board have received feedback and are ready to take action, it is time to prepare for the elevated level of communication and engagement you will need in the coming weeks. Prepare several items for distribution in the community, such as:
- A letter to parents, staff and (ideally) alumni and community members explaining the reason behind the change and why the district/board decided to move forward.
- A second op-ed in the local newspaper, written by the board president.
- Several social media posts, ideally using a variety of social platforms to get your messages across.
- A fact sheet to distribute to local restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
- A news release announcing the school name change after the board votes to move forward.
Throughout these communications, be sure to reiterate your understanding that change can be difficult for many members of the school district community. Continue to speak to the process the board used and the positive aspects a school name change will bring about for students, staff and families.
While navigating a school name change can be difficult, it is possible to move through this process while building a greater level of trust between your district and its community. Keep these tips in mind as you begin your effort.