RCSD board eyes renaming School No. 33

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Since its founding in 1890, School No. 33 has been named after John James Audobon, the 18th century naturalist. Soon it will have a new name, potentially that of a beloved leader and “Queen Mother” in Rochester.

“Place and people mattered to Iris Banister and they knew that they mattered,” said her son, Simeon Banister, president of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, during public comments at the Rochester City School District board meeting last week.

“As a kid growing up, (my brother and I) spent a whole lot of time at 33 school. We spent time out on the fields at play and recreation, we hung out at the Sully Branch library—that’s where my mother taught us how to read and to embrace the love of learning,” continued Banister. “She was responsible for the education of the educators at 33 school, often providing in-services and trainings and educational opportunities to help everyone get better at the craft.”

His mother died this year after more than 30 years as a community leader working on issues such as education, neighborhood services and lead poisoning. When visiting a number of West African countries, she was named “Queen Mother” for her work there.

“What really mattered to my brother and I, when we watched my mother be named a Queen Mother in this seemingly far-away place, when we got back to Rochester, folks said, ‘Of course! We already knew she was a Queen Mother!’ and they began using that same title here in her home,” her son recalled, expressing gratitude for the board’s consideration.

Other supporters for the name change that Bannister listed were former RCSD administrators Marilynn Patterson Grant and Renee Turner, Rush-Henrietta schools superintendent Barbara Mullen, and former student and current musician Danielle Ponder.

School No. 33 is located near the Homestead Heights and Beechwood neighborhoods of northeastern Rochester and serves over 800 students, Pre-K through Grade 6. Its building is closely connected to the Sully Branch library and Thomas P. Ryan Recreation Center.

This renaming, which will be considered by the board later this month, comes not long after a more controversial one earlier this year. In February, the board voted on seven school name changes, including renaming the high school at Franklin as the Padilla High School.

The name was chosen to honor the entire Padilla family, who came to Rochester from Puerto Rico in the 1900s and quickly became community leaders themselves. Nancy Padilla served as a RCSD board member and City Council member and was the first Hispanic person to run for Rochester mayor, in 1993. Juan Padilla was the first teacher to bring bilingual programming to Franklin High School in the late 1960s. 

“It’s the strong influx in the (Northeast) community, and also the fact that we had a Padilla bring bilingual education to Franklin and that campus,” Superintendent Carmine Peluso said in February. “This was prior to the law requiring schools to do that, so in that way, it shows how active they were in the community.”

A board statement about the decision called the Padillas “pillars of the Rochester community.”

However, the decision was met with pushback which came to a head during a public comment session held in April, with many speakers advocating instead for the school to be named after Trenton James “TJ” Jackson. The name was not in consideration because the petition, which had over 500 signatures, had not been submitted in time.

Jackson was a multisport athletic star who set records in the 100-yard dash, went to the 1964 Olympics, and was drafted into the National Football League. He returned to Rochester after his athletic career and taught at Franklin for more than 30 years, coaching Section V championship teams in track and field, football, and basketball.

“It’s a shame I have to come here and speak for a humble man who wouldn’t even speak about his accolades. Because the city of Rochester doesn’t know how to respect him,” said Jackson’s son, Trenton Jackson Jr. “To me, this is common sense.”

While stating his respect for the Padilla family, Jackson said he views the exclusion of his father’s name for the school as the latest in a long line of snubs. For example, his father chose to return home rather than coach at the collegiate level and taught through a quadruple bypass until “his body wouldn’t allow him to speak out.” It took until 2016, nine years after his death, for a track and field complex at Franklin to have Jackson’s name.

He also said claims that the Jackson family was spoken to about the name change were lies and he planned to run for school board in the future.

“I was the one who actually championed the field being named after Trent Jackson, that’s my work that we did,” Board President Cynthia Elliott said in February.

A public hearing for a number of school renamings, including Franklin, was held in January. There were five written name suggestions accepted and four speakers, all suggesting names for schools other than Franklin.

At a meeting held in early April, the board reviewed its school renaming policies to determine if there were ways to improve community participation.

“I believe the superintendent did in fact follow the policy. He had talked about it for a few months, the renaming of these schools,” said Elliott. “But (for people supporting a different name) the process wasn’t followed. They didn’t come in the beginning as we were discussing this. So, is there something with regard to this policy that we can do differently to better connect with (the) community?”

The board also stressed there must be a balance between flexibility for the community and limiting the potential for abuse of the system, such as triggering a name-change vote month after month. It is currently being reconsidered in the policy committee.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

5 thoughts on “RCSD board eyes renaming School No. 33

  1. The RCSD will not run School 33 in the manner Iris ran the SHAPE program in the RCSD. Iris had a magical program that took misbehaving kids and transformed their lives. Naturally the district closed her program. The RCSD is incapable of running the school as Iris would have. Naming School 33 for Iris is dishonoring her amazing legacy as a school leader.

  2. Looks like someone on the RCSD finally read the letter I had published on the Beacon site last July 31, which said in part….

    “Additionally, the board of Education has done little to nothing about renaming the
    Charles Carroll School No. 46 or the John James Audubon School No. 33
    (named for the renown wildlife artist who bought and sold slaves in his spare
    time, the facts of which, when they became public knowledge, resulted in several
    Audubon Society chapters opting to disassociate themselves from his name).”

    Better late than never guys!

    • What has or will renaming the educational buildings do for education? Not a darn thing. That said, politics rules and kids can’t seem to get an education. It’s beyond disappointing, it’s tragic.

      • I really hope you’re joking. Sadly, you probably don’t see any value in presenting school children with an honest historical record rather than the “white-washed” version of reality designed to excise the embarrassing bits from our history.

  3. If the board, if the effort of renaming schools and the detail applied to the process would only reflect the quality of the education administered in those houses of learning….we would have solved the K-12 educational journey with passing grades and kids prepared for higher learning and subsequent careers and professions. Don’t we wish.

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