Many have wondered exactly how the new names for Tyler ISD’s two flagship high schools came to be In the very short period of seventeen days from start to finish. as the one tasked with facilitating the renaming process, I hope to share not only the process, but also a perspective on how we went about this Inclusive and authentic endeavor.
As a journalist of twenty plus years, it has been ingrained in me to always be fair and balanced. To accomplish this, you first have to listen. And I don’t mean just listen—I mean really, really listen, by giving people a safe place to speak their minds freely and without judgment.
With this as our guiding principle, we began the renaming process by soliciting community name submissions that followed Tyler ISD Board policy. We then formed focus groups to evaluate the suggestions. Each focus group contained a diverse group of three students, three parents/guardians, and three staff (principal, head football coach, and staff). It was important to focus group members that they be heard and representative of their communities. That’s why it was decided that each focus group would meet on the very campus that they were naming, allowing for both processes to be authentic, without influence from the other campus. When meeting with these amazing community members who gave up hours of their time to participate in this process, it quickly became obvious that each and every one of them love their school, their community, and their city.
First and foremost, we began with the knowns in mind; the campus mascots and colors would remain the same. Each focus group was charged to come up with no more than five names they would like to submit to the superintendent, who would then narrow it down and submit no more than three per campus to the Tyler ISD Board of Trustees.
During the initial meeting, when each focus group first saw the list of names that met Board policy, it was easier for them to agree with what they did not want their campus name to be. In short, they determined they did not want directional names! There would be no North, South, East, or West or combination thereof. That, in and of itself, eliminated a large percentage of the community suggested name pool.
As a facilitator, I shared with them the revised Board policy. The biggest change with the newly adopted policy is that schools could no longer be named after a person, living or deceased. We then discussed the options that did meet policy: ideas representing patriotic beliefs, desired qualities, and outcomes. Local, state, regional, and national areas of significance were also a part of the conversation. We talked about branding, marketing, and the importance of a name when representing the school outside of the city limits at academic competitions, athletic events, and visual and performing arts competitions. Then, members got a chance to think and reflect: What’s in a name? What direction should we go? What name will last for generations to come in which our students and community can take pride? Each member had a chance to ask their friends, family, and other community members, “What are your thoughts on these names and why?”
As we came together again, it was important to acknowledge an awareness of the emotions of all involved in this decision and the varied points of view and opinions around something as significant as a name change. Throughout the process, different members of the group spoke freely about past hurts and present concerns; how alumni might feel if one name was chosen over another; why one name, while intentionally positive, might be construed the wrong way; and even had a laugh over, “No, that makes the school sound like a funeral home!”
It also was extremely important to both groups that a tie to the city or community be incorporated into the school names. While we considered a reference to the city’s claim as the “Rose Capital of the World,” ultimately both focus groups felt that since we already had a Rose Stadium and a “Tyler Rose” in football legend Earl Campbell, it would be best to go in a different direction.
When all was said and done, the focus group for the then John Tyler High School submitted their names to the superintendent who then submitted the final three to the Board. The group agreed they would be happy with any of the final names. The majority of the students liked the idea of going back to the original name of Tyler High School, saying it allows them to keep a part of their own legacy while moving forward as the city’s namesake high school.
And for the then Robert E. Lee High School, the focus group unanimously decided to only submit two names. The group wanted to send a strong message to the Board that they wanted to be called Tyler Legacy High School, a name they felt acknowledges the legacy of past alumni who have great memories tied to the school, and at the same time, acknowledges the desire to pave a new way for these next generations to leave their own legacy.
Both Tyler High School and Tyler Legacy High School are under extraordinary leadership from principals Claude Lane and Dr. Dan Crawford, respectively. Both schools are also in the process of building new and renovated state-of-the-art facilities that provide students with unique and innovative learning spaces. As we look to the future, it is my hope that our collective efforts through this process will lead toward healing for some, acceptance of the situation for others, and the building of something great in Tyler ISD.
What’s In a name? What direction should we go? What name will last for generations to come In which our students and community can take pride?