For nearly 50 years, the large school building on Avenue X in Gravesend, Brooklyn, has been known as John Dewey High School, after the man who has been called “the father of progressive education.” The name is on the building and the sign out front. It is what you hear on the school’s answering machine.
That era is coming to an end.
Next year the Dewey name will be attached to a location, not an institution, as the high school and 23 other public schools are renamed, as part of the city’s Education Department strategy to qualify for nearly $60 million in federal grants to help the so-called struggling schools get fresh starts.
Instead of borrowing their names from distinguished historical figures like Dewey and William Cullen Bryant, many of the schools will incorporate words like “opportunity” and “academy” into their titles.
The name changes are a requirement of a city plan to replace about half of the teaching staff and bestow new titles on the 24 schools, some of which are among the oldest educational institutions in the city.
The closings, part of the Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to shutter schools officials have deemed failing, have already prompted outrage, and this week the teachers’ and principals’ unions tried to block the city’s plan in court. Hiring is on hold, though city officials on Wednesday said they plan to start posting job descriptions online and soliciting resumes to replace staff members in time for the new school year.
On Thursday, incoming ninth graders who applied to the schools, when they still had their old names, will receive letters saying where they have been accepted and what the names of their schools are. On Wednesday, the city still had not told all principals of the final approved list of names, though Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott signed off on it. The new names will take effect on July 1.
John Dewey High School will become the Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus.
August Martin High School in South Jamaica, Queens, where the name is carved into the building’s frieze, will open as the School of Opportunities at the August Martin Campus.
And William Cullen Bryant High School in Astoria, Queens, will become the Academy of Humanities and Applied Science at the William Cullen Bryant Campus, a title that is far from the poetry that fell from the pen of the famous American writer.
The principal of Dewey, Kathleen Elvin, said the change of name has not been popular with staff members, students and alumni, for whom John Dewey is more than a namesake or a famous historical figure. The school, which opened in 1969, is built on Mr. Dewey’s pedagogical philosophy, and was selective with a progressive bent and an emphasis on independent study.
“We were all pretty stuck on John Dewey, and I don’t think it would have been a problem except that this name means so much in education,” said Ms. Elvin, who became principal in the middle of this school year. “It stood for something innovative.”
After talking it over with alumni and allowing students to vote their preference, she proposed the John Dewey Community High School. “Well that didn’t fly,” with city officials, she said. It was “a distinction without a difference.”
She tried again, suggesting the John Dewey High School of Arts and Sciences, but ran into the same opposition.
Lawyers for the city’s Department of Education had advised education officials that while the building could be called the John Dewey campus, the school itself needed a new name if it was to truly qualify as a new school.
Finally, Ms. Elvin suggested the Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences, after a consultant working with the school discovered, when rifling through old architectural documents, a reference to Dewey as the Shorefront High School. That passed muster with the city’s Education Department.
The list includes many of the words and phrases that have become popular in school names over the last decade, as principals pay more attention to marketing and try to brand their schools with words like academy (now used at 208 schools), community (50 schools) and technology (40 schools).
At least one of them — the Bronx Middle School of Academic and Career Technology — combines so many of these popular words that it almost requires an explanatory footnote.
But there are exceptions.
At Flushing High School in Queens, the principal decided to rename the school after Rupert B. Thomas, a member of the city’s Board of Education in the early 20th century who pushed for the city to build a new high school in Flushing.
City officials said they gave the schools the leeway to reinvent themselves.
“We did not prescribe a formula,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “We empowered principals to figure this out, and I think in every instance they’ve done a good job of that.”
Some principals put out comment boxes, others asked students to weigh in.
At Bryant High School, the principal, Namita Dwarka, who is also an alumna, had student leaders survey their peers. There were two winners: William Cullen Bryant Academy of Humanities and Applied Sciences, and the William Cullen Bryant Academy of Innovation. Neither could be approved under the city’s guidelines, so the school will become the Academy of Humanities and Applied Sciences at the William Cullen Bryant Campus.
Ms. Dwarka said she was pleased with the compromise.
“We’re honored that we were granted the ability keep the Bryant name in, because it’s quite meaningful for us,” she said. “The campus piece might cause a little unrest, but that’s all right, we can deal with that.”
Whether the schools’ new names are actually used is another matter. Unlike a typical new school, these 24 so-called “turnaround” schools already have students who have been attending for a couple of years and will return in September to the same buildings. For them, using a new name will not be second nature.
Mr. Sternberg said the city is planning to develop “campus branding plans,” and will buy new signs, new stationary and new marketing materials.
“Some people will say Dewey and some people will say Shorefront,” Ms. Elvin said. “It just evolves.”
24 Renamed Schools:
Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School — Bronx Institute for Automotive Technology
Herbert H. Lehman High School — Throggs Neck High School at the Lehman Campus
Banana Kelly High School — Collegiate Preparatory Academy at Longwood
Junior High School 22 Jordan L. Mott — The College Avenue Academy
Intermediate School 339 — Bronx Middle School of Academic and Career Technology
Bronx High School of Business — Business Enterprise High School
Junior High School 80 Mosholu Parkway — Norwood Academy of Communal Excellence at the Isobel Rooney Campus
Middle School 391 Angelo Patri — Innovative School of Excellence at the Angelo Patri Campus
Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology — East Fordham College and Career Preparatory High School
Middle School 142 John Philip Sousa — North Bronx Academy
John Ericsson Middle School 126 — The Greenpoint Community Middle School at the John Ericcson Campus
Automotive High School — Greenpoint High School for Engineering and Automotive Technology
Junior High School 166 George Gershwin — School of Integrated Academics and Performing Arts at the George Gershwin Campus
John Dewey High School — Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus
Sheepshead Bay High School — Academy of Career Exploration of Sheepshead Bay
High School of Graphic Communication Arts — Creative Digital Minds High School
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School — People’s School of the Arts
August Martin High School — School of Opportunities at the August Martin Campus
Newtown High School — College and Career Academies High School at Newtown Campus
Flushing High School — Rupert B. Thomas Academy at Flushing High School Campus
Richmond Hill High School — 21st Century School at Richmond Hill Campus
John Adams High School — Future Leaders High School at the John Adams Campus
William Cullen Bryant High School — Academy of Humanities and Applied Science at the William Cullen Bryant Campus
Long Island City High School — Global Scholars Academies of Long Island City