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Discussion to rename John Kennedy School stirs up some opposition

Long before there was a John Kennedy in the White House, there was a John Kennedy in Batavia.

Before there was "Profiles in Courage," there was "Individual Instruction" and "The School and the Family."

Before PT109, there was the Civil War and a young man born in England, who moved to Iowa and joined the Union's cause.

The John Kennedy of Batavia was an educator, a veteran of the War Between the States, and a preservationist, saving the Holland Land Office from assured destruction.

"I don’t think people associate the name of John Kennedy School with the right individual," said County Clerk Don Read, an avid history buff, especially of Genesee County. "Many people don't know that the John Kennedy in the history of Batavia certainly occupies a place in education history and the history of Genesee County. Not many people of his stature have come out of Genesee County."

And that's why there's a school in Batavia with brass Helvetica letters on its brick facade that reads, "John Kennedy School."

The school opened in 1956, and now there's some talk of changing its name, perhaps to Batavia Intermediate School.

The subject came up at Monday's school board meeting and the board seems to be considering the idea.

Board President Gail Stevens said she will support whatever the community wants for the names of it schools (Jackson School is also up for grabs).

"I’m all for giving the community a choice," Stevens said. "They’re the stakeholders in the school, the parents, the teachers, the students. If the community wants change, then I'll represent the community."

While the decision to consolidate schools -- leading to the closure of Robert Morris -- was driven by financial issues, what the schools are named is purely a matter of community choice and Stevens said she didn't want to impose her viewpoint on that choice.

The issue came about, according to Board Member Phil Ricci, because a group of parents brought the issue to the board.

According to Ricci, the parents were concerned that students transferring from Robert Morris would join community schools with community identities, and potentially feel left out of the mix.

Changing school names is a matter of changing brands and getting all of the students involved, Ricci said.

"I think the primary thing to understand is that it isn't so much changing the name of the school," Ricci said. "The way of doing business, the way the schools are run, the way we're deliving educational services is being changed."

The former names no longer fit, Ricci said, especially if you consider the name of JK to be John Kennedy Elementary School.

On the district's Web site, that's the name of the school. On the school building itself, it's simply John Kennedy School.

Ricci said there is a push by some parents to change the name to Batavia School or Batavia Intermediate School. 

Another option, Ricci said, one he favors, is John Kennedy Intermediate School, and some have suggested, he said, Batavia Intermediate School at John Kennedy.

Both Stevens and Ricci said the cost of a name change would be minimal, and there are no concrete plans right now to institute a name change.

The board will discuss it further at its next meeting, Stevens said, and decide what to do from there.

The idea of dropping John Kennedy caught the attention of local historians and preservationists.

The board of the Holland Land Office Museum voted Tuesday night to oppose the change.

"You would  be taking away the history of the community," said HLOM Director Jeff Donahue. "The man should be honored because of the great work that he did for this area and for education in general."

Local author, localist and lover of Batavia Bill Kauffman was chagrined at the idea of Batavia once again turning its back on its history.

"Modern Batavia's besetting sin has been its disregard, even contempt, for Batavia's history," Kauffman said. "The catastrophic urban renewal of the 1960s and '70s was the most spectacular example of this. Renaming Batavia's schools would be yet another -- and wholly unnecessary -- case of the city wiping out its past and severing its connection to those who have gone before. As a proud alumnus of John Kennedy, I really hope that great little school on Vine Street retains its name."

John Kennedy was born Sept. 17, 1846, in England. He was one of 14 children. His father brought the family to New York hoping for work on the Erie Canal, but after Mrs. Kennedy heard nothing of her husband, she packed up the family and moved to Greeley, Iowa.

After the Civil War, Kennedy returned to Iowa where he became a school superintendent, soon gaining recognition for his innovative education techniques.

Kennedy spoke to educators in New York on a couple of occasions, and then the fairly new Batavia City Schools District invited Kennedy to become its second superintendent.

Over the next 23 years, Kennedy led the district, creating a number of innovations in education, such as teacher's aides and a style of teaching that offered encouragement to students rather than direct help.

In 1894, Kennedy learned that the former Holland Land Office, which had been a private residence, was going to be torn down and its bricks sold to Henry Ford for reconstruction of the building on his estate in Michigan. Kennedy started a "penny drive" to raise enough money for a down payment on the property. When he reached that goal, other community members pitched in to complete the purchase and donate the building and land to the county.

"Kennedy realized the significance of the building and because of him, we still have the Holland Land Office today," Donahue said.

Ricci said if the school name is changed, none of the history will be lost. Everything on and in the building of historical value will be preserved, he said.

"I'm fine if it's Batavia Intermediate or John Kennedy Intermediate," Ricci said. "I'm not trying to be blase about it, because I know it means something to a lot of people, but the history that goes with that school is all inside of it. It all stays. The name on the building needs to fit the new brand.

"We have three cultures in three different schools. What we call the schools needs to reflect what goes on in the schools. That doesn't mean we have to get rid of John Kennedy as the name, but possibly add to it; John Kennedy Intermediate school."

FOOTNOTE: Ricci was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, and subsequently won a seat outright on the board. But because he came in second in the voting, he won't be able to officially vote on anything until July. As top vote-getter in the election, Gretchen DiFante assumed the vacant seat on the board.

Mark Brudz
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John Kennedy Intermediate would be ok, but in my humble opinion, a community that looses it;s sense of history or tradition looses it's basic sense of community itself.

Batavia Intermediate sounds bland sort sort of like Generic Corn Flakes vice Tony The Tiger's Kellogs Frosted Flakes.

Charlie Mallow
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If the school is now the intermediate school, why not call it that. Who said they wanted to change the sign?

Steve Ognibene
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If it does have to get changed I hope the John Kennedy part of the name remains. I don't see elementary on the actual building so adding just the intermediate part would be just a easier afterthought.

@ Charlie, I guess parents have sent in letters and suggested a name change for both schools as part of the consolidation. I can understand a bit better that for the Jackson site changing the name completely would not really be a issue being named after the street (if that's what was done). Calling it Batavia Primary would serve it's purpose.

I just don't feel that pulling the John Kennedy name out the whole name outlook would really beneficial because of it being named of the first superintendent and would wrongly be disrespectful.

Steve Ognibene
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The intermediate part of the name would signify that the school is not primary grades (like at Jackson in the fall being Pre-K-1st grade) and because of the consolidation. That location is only housing grades 2-4 thus making it a intermediate school.

Gary Spencer
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I was thinking we should rename it "Phil Ricci Elementary" for the BEST damn school board member and future city counsel member, and he will most likely move on from there to State Assemblyman....by the time he hits the white house, we can all point to the school and say "Remember when...."

Charlie Mallow
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Howard, I just have to agree with Steve on that. You should call the school what it is, intermediate. The actual name of the school, John Kennedy should just stay out of respect.

As for Ricci Intermediate School, that would just give Phil one other thing to brag about. I could see it now, "Hey Phil, look at my new lawn mower". Too which Phil would respond, "Lawn Mower? Did you see my school!!" Nope, I couldn't live that down..

Mark Brudz
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The true question is, where do we put the Howard Owens School of Journalism?

Mark Brudz
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LOl, okay Howard, but I do lean your way on the issue, while I could live with Jackson Primary and John Kennedy Intermediate, I prefer that we leave the names as is.

Franky, I do not see the need to change the names at all.

Mark Brudz
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Did I miss something? I was agreeing with you Howard.

Charlie Mallow
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Howard, it's just descriptive of what it is. If grades 9-12 were taught at Jackson and they wanted to call it a Highschool, would that be symbolic of bloated government as well? Think about this, they closed a school. The word bloated can't fit into this whole idea. They have made government smaller. You can't decribe something that is now less, as bloated.

John Roach
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Just leave the names alone. The change serves no real purpose and is a waste of time and money.

Steve Ognibene
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I believe everyone in the city would know it's a 2-4 school except looking towards the future people coming into the area would not and some parents/parent groups want to change the name or add the intermediate part.

I really don't think it's necessary to change any names and leave it as is. People will still call it Jackson and John Kennedy who have lived here for many years and probably years to come because it's always been called that till now the talk of changing the names.

I believe that taking away the history part of the name and person involved in Batavia would be a loss to the community.

Jeff Allen
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It is almost a guarantee that a name change would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Trying to match the letters that have been on the school for years would be impossible, so all new letters would have to be purchased and installed by a contractor. All exisiting letterhead would need to be replaced among many other identifiers. In a fiscal climate where every new expense must be offset by a cut, something of more value will have to be sacrificed for a name change. The only other option would be selling the naming rights to cover the cost. The M&T Bank Batavia Intermediate School at the John Kennedy Campus.

Anne Barone
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Does anyone remember about 20 years ago that the school district bought land on River Street for "necessary expansion"? Now we are consolidating. What happens 20 years from now? Keep the names on the buildings for crying out loud, and there is no need to define what's inside as far as grades go. The only exception would be Robert Morris. Instead of "Elementary" use "Robert Morris Administration Building." (or use the word "campus" for "building" since there seems to be a movement here to fancify , ie: centre, not center). Let's not make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Charlie Mallow
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Howard, I'm not sure where this idea of changing the names on the outside of the buildings is coming from, did you hear someone propose that? I'm not sure anyone wanted to do that and I would be hard pressed to support something like that. Remember, I was the nut against paying for the sign outside the mall?As for adding the word "intermediate", that's what the use of the building would be. So, if City Hall or the police station moved to another building, you would be opposed to calling the new building what it was?

Ted Wenzka
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All this bickering is stupid and serves no purpose. Actually there is a purpose, it shows that people have nothing better to do and that people are becoming touchy-feely. and over emotional. For god's sake - leave the school names as they are.

Mark Potwora
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Jeff ...I was thinking the same thing about selling the naming rights..They did it with the ice arena....But in all reality they should just leave it alone...Doesn't the school board have enough issues to deal with, why add another....What happened to the 20 job cuts..I see its now down to 10...I would hate to think that they had to raise the tax rate so that we could spend money to rename schools ....In the end the whole school consolation issue looks like a wash..Between the increase in busing,the renaming of schools and still having to maintain both buildings,The admin and Robert Morris..Where is the million dollars in savings.. Not to mention creating the House Administration job at the Middle school..What do they want to change that name to...Ross St.Jr High...............

Tim Miller
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I confess that I had thought the John Kennedy referenced in the school name was the U.S. President. Neat thing about this article is I got to learn about "the other" John Kennedy. I think it would be a darn shame to remove that gentleman's name from the school.

I now live in Raleigh, NC. Schools used to be named for people who had an historical impact in the area - names that mean something to those whose families have been in the area a long time. Those of us who have moved here inevitably find out about some of the folks the schools are named for and what they and their families have done for the area.

New schools, though, have names based on geography. Whereas "Broughton" and "Stough" reflect the impact of two families on the area (maybe after a bit of research), "Wakefield" and "Leesville" simply let somebody know where the school is. The one word I can use to describe the new naming methodology is "boring".

Keep "John Kennedy" in the name. With all due respect to those living in Batavia, removing the honor to Mr. Kennedy and renaming the school "Batavia yada-yada-yada School" detracts from history, and is simply boring.

Dave Meyer
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Ridiculous waste of time and effort

Mary E DelPlato
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how bout renaming the city of Batavia to blahtavia? Is this is wats bein put on the table for discussion instead of more important issues? How bout changing all the names of the streets too

John Roach
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Too bad the Board did not bring this up before the election. We might have elected two new people instead of just one.

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