Though the New Haven Board of Education says it has already agreed to rename Alvarado Middle School, the decision may be tougher than expected as opposition is increasing.
A protest is planned for tonight at 5:30 p.m. on the corner of Smith and Fredi streets in the Old Alvarado district. A similar one was held Monday evening on the corner of Smith and Horner streets.
Many of those participating in the protests are descendants of Alvarado’s original families who claim the Alvarado name is sacred to the community and “should under no circumstance be changed,” organizers said.
“The community is not happy with the current anti-Alvarado protests that have been going on,” said Joseph Garcia, 17, a member of “(Old) Alvarado United,” the neighborhood group organizing the protests. “[We] recognize what the Filipino community is doing and respect that, but feel the history of the area should not be taken away in such a manner.”
They also argue that renaming the school is not an “extraordinary circumstance” as outlined in the board’s naming policy.
The group intends to hand out petitions throughout the community and collect signatures of those against the proposed name change.
As the (Old) Alvarado United movement gains momentum, resident Lance Nishihira is independently circulating an online petition to reverse the decision to change the school’s name.
“It’s not a slam dunk” for the proponents of the name change, said Nishihira, one of the leading voices of the opposition.
Though Nishihira is affiliated with AMS’ School Site Council, the petition was an independent act, fueled by his dismay with the lack of public discourse prior to the board’s Jan. 15 vote to change the school’s name.
According to school district records, the Board of Education voted 5-0 on Jan. 15 to rename the school. But opponents say they were not informed about such discussions.
“It did not appear that there was an earnest and diligent attempt to gather public feedback and sentiment,” Nishihira, a 39-year-old father of three New Haven students, told Patch. “There’s been a lot of organization on the proponent’s end but I don’t think we’ve even had time to prepare the opposing view.”
Nishihira hopes to unify the opposing voices into a community coalition.
“I’m here to report that there is opposition,” Nishihira said. “There is dissension in the community, and it will continue to divide us.”
Though no name has been decided upon, board members have discussed renaming the school after Filipino American labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, who were contemporaries of Cesar Chavez. Heavily attended board meetings and community marches in support of the name change earlier this month have sparked controversy and vehement debate.
Those supporting the name change say it will be a significant milestone in American history as it would be the first school named after Filipino Americans.
“We are not just trying to rename a facility, we are trying to instill a strong sense of self,” said Erica Viray-Santos, a San Leandro teacher and former New Haven teacher who has helped spearhead support for the name change, at a March 19 meeting. "This is not just Filipino history, it’s American history."
According to school board members, the idea of an Itliong-Vera Cruz school has been tossed around several times in the last 13 years, and was in consideration when New Haven Middle School was renamed after Cesar Chavez.
Several school board members, including board president Linda Canlas, support the name change.
“New Haven Unified celebrates diversity and equality. These ideas are the pillars of strength the district prides itself,” Canlas said at the March 19 meeting. “This community is ready to make room for others that have been forgotten and have been invisible.”
The decision is not final, and those in opposition are hoping they can sway the board in their favor before the matter is discussed again.
“I’m not really sure what anyone intends the end result of a name change to be. Will renaming the school raise student achievement? Improve the student to teacher ratio? Reduce furlough days? Save co-curricular activities? I have a hard time believing that it will, but that is the responsibility of the School Board,” Nishihira said.
The board will hold a meeting on April 16 to discuss the matter and possibly choose a new name for Alvarado Middle School. At that time, the naming committee, established after the Jan. 15 meeting, will provide up to three names for consideration.
According to board members, the board can change their previous decision or delay the action if three or more trustees agree to do so.