Campo Verde school name fertile ground for controversy
Arizona Republic
November  5, 2008



by Emily Gersema -

The name game for Gilbert Public Schools has turned into a blame game this week as residents bombarded district officials and the governing board with e-mails outraged over the name of the district's new high school: Campo Verde.

The complaints have led the governing board to reconsider the name.

One parent, Kelly Cook, wrote last week, "It sounds like a charter school name or a home for wayward teens."

She was among more than 80 people who sent e-mails to district leaders demanding a name change for the school under construction near Germann Road and Val Vista Drive.A few of the writers contended that a Spanish name "is not reflective of Gilbert" while others were derogatory in tone. However, they overwhelmingly questioned why the board didn't gather public input before settling on Campo Verde.

Member Elaine Morrison was credited with proposing "Campo Verde." It is Spanish for "green field." All five members approved the name last week.

But on Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to reconsider the name at its regular meeting later this month. It also directed the marketing staff to conduct a communitywide survey before then.

A questionnaire is expected to appear within a few days on the district's Web site.

Board President Helen Hollands emphasized the survey will allow all GPS residents to weigh in.

District officials decided to extend it to all residents because the state has open enrollment, which allows a family to apply and send their children to schools outside of the district or school boundaries in which they reside. Gilbert, with 38,000 students, already serves several children who live in neighboring districts.

Most importantly though, Hollands noted, the board told the administration to draft a plan for handling any future name decisions.

"It's to establish a process to gather community input," she said.

Hollands and member Elaine Morrison had voted against the motion Tuesday to reconsider the name, while members Thad Stump, Lily Tram and Board Clerk Van Dunham were in favor.

Dunham said he had misgivings before voting on the name. He said he was OK with the choice, but believed the district and board should have gathered more input beforehand.

"As elected officials, we have a responsibility to listen to our constituents as we make our decisions," he said.

Dunham said that "Campo Verde" will remain among the options to consider. He added, though, that the board doesn't want to appear indecisive, either, which is why it chose to allot more time to reconsider the high school's name and gather alternatives.

Morrison said after Tuesday's meeting that many of the e-mail complaints were uncivil, "which is a loss for all."

The district participates in a statewide program, Character Counts, which teaches students values, called "pillars," such as respect.

"Maybe we need to add another pillar of character for students. One that would be called 'tolerance,'" she said.

Census data shows that Gilbert is now home to an estimated 207,000 people - 82 percent of whom are White, 15 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent Black, with the remainder American Indian or other races.

The Hispanic population in the town has been growing over the years - a reflection of a nationwide trend.

"I hope at some point Gilbert will grow into itself," Morrison said.