A committee suggests names for three North Clackamas schools; Westfall not among them

A former state superintendent of schools, a local creek, a city and a national children's organization are the top recommendations for naming new schools to be built in the North Clackamas School District.

Joe Krumm, the district's director of community and government relations and a member of the naming committee, presented the committee's recommendations to the board.

'The committee debated the merits of different names for many hours but weighed 90 years of history,' he said.

The committee considered each name's history within the district and the district's previous naming of schools, what the name would mean to and instill in future generations and other factors.

'You want to make sure that the names stand the test of time,' Krumm said.

The committee received more than 100 suggestions from the public, held a public hearing, narrowed the field down to 15 names per site through a weighted vote and heard over 100 comments on that revised list through an online forum. The committee then chose a single name to recommend to the board by a supermajority vote, requiring eight of the 11 committee members. Then they chose three to five other names per site as secondary recommendations.

'[The committee members] were conscientious, thoughtful,' Krumm said. 'With more than 100 name suggestions coming forward, they understood that they would disappoint some people.'

Westfalls out in force

The biggest of those disappointments clearly came from the Westfall family, whose property was purchased for the school at site C, on 172nd Avenue north of Highway 212.

The naming committee suggested the name Verne A. Duncan Elementary School for the site, choosing to honor a former educator, as the district has traditionally done, rather than a community member.

'It's very difficult when there's emotion involved like this,' said committee member Thomas Joseph. 'Civic virtue is very difficult when you're asked to give something up for the good of the community. I don't think, however, that that in and of itself is enough if we're taking the long view here … eminent domain is not a proscription for a memorial.'

Susan Westfall, daughter of the property owner Jack Westfall, thought it would be fitting to honor her parents, who she said are pillars of the community.

'Jack is a businessman, an inventor, a veteran,' Susan Westfall said. Her father fought in World War II, invented the Westfall Performer, an industrial logging machine, with his brother in the 50s, and went on to run two companies. 'He achieved all this with only a high school education.'

'The Westfalls were pioneers to the Clackamas area,' she continued. 'They represent the spirit of Clackamas … [Naming the school after them] is the right thing to do and for the right reason.'

Various other family members and friends also came to show their support.

'I feel that the ones that are moving in need to honor the people who gave up the land they loved,' said Heather Westfall, Jack Westfall's granddaughter.

They also questioned why Verne Duncan's name was proposed for the site. Duncan was an NCSD superintendent, the second-longest running state superintendent of schools and a state senator who lived in Oak Grove.

'We do not have any ill-will toward Mr. Duncan, as he has provided support for Oregon schools for years,' said Gordon Westfall. 'It would appear that the Westfall's fit the criteria for all three of these, however Mr. Duncan does not met all three of these,' referring to the fact that Duncan was from Oak Grove and didn't have the local significance. ' Wouldn't Mr. Duncan be better served by naming the new administration center after him?'

The naming committee was very moved by the Westfalls' pleas, Krumm said, but preferred to honor them with some kind of monument or marker on the site rather than to name the entire school after them.

'I had the privilege in this of being a key player in the Happy Valley area,' said committee member Curtis Long. 'I also had the privilege of visiting the Westfalls on their property. They could not have had a more open-arm approach … I think that we have a commitment to acknowledging the community.'

He said it's important that, 'whatever that school is named, they do know where that land came from … we need to keep that and make that a priority.'

And while the board empathized with the Westfall family, one board member flipped their argument on its head.

Vivian Scott took what the Westfalls had said - that it was their last chance to name a school in the area and that they should honor those who had worked and loved the land before them - and applied it to another recommended name: Chinook Elementary School, after the American Indians who 'used the land for thousands of years.'

She argued that if they were to use the Westfalls' reasoning, the Chinook name would be much better because it held the same principles, but applied to a group who worked the land much longer than the Westfalls.

Scott also challenged another name, that of Scouters Mountain Elementary School for the building that would sit on 172nd Avenue north of Hagen Road. She said the school district must strive to be inclusive as one of its top priorities.

'My responsibility is to look at that inclusive piece, and I wonder how welcoming that name would be for members of our district who are gay, lesbian, bisexual,' she said. 'I believe that every child needs to feel welcome and every family, and has a right to feel welcome.

Monroe Sweetland could be


Another recommendation for that site near Scouters Mountain is Monroe Sweetland Elementary School. Sweetland was a legislator from North Clackamas, published a local newspaper, helped form Portland State University, helped lower the voting age to 18 and more.

Two community members spoke in favor of this name at the meeting last week, including his younger daughter, Rebecca Sweetland.

'We just thought it would be the most appropriate honor for dad because of his love for education,' she said. 'Nothing, and I mean nothing, could please him more. That he might be honored in this way by his neighbors is the finest of tributes.'

The school board will choose the final names for each site at its meeting next Thursday, April 17.

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