Education board will not consider Miller-Driscoll name change

The idea of changing the name of Miller-Driscoll School was put to rest at the Board of Education’s June 21 meeting.

Board member Lory Rothstein proposed the idea at the board’s May 11 meeting, suggesting that with school renovation construction coming to an end, it might be a “prime opportunity” for the board to consider renaming the elementary school “for the next generation of kids.”

Rothstein said she has personally “only received very positive feedback in support of the name change,” but acknowledged additional feedback the board received following its May meeting.

Of the 186 people who took a Wilton Bulletin poll, 74% said they would be against renaming the school, 18% said they would be in favor, and 8% were unsure.

Rothstein said she “absolutely respect[s] the history of our town and our schools,” and the “main reason” she proposed a name-change “has to do with the social learning and development of our youngest students.”

“Our schools are not just about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. We focus on the whole child, and their social/emotional development is a priority for us,” she said.

“I believe that a strong connection with the school they attend, which is built on school spirit and values, is important for students.”

Rothstein said a new name could provide “opportunities for the school to play off its name and create ways [to] help foster a connection and sense of belonging to a school community.”

However, if the board decided to not explore the idea, Rothstein said, she would support that decision.

Board member Laura Schwemm, who attended the former Driscoll School as a child, said her “strong sense of Wilton and its history” doesn’t just come from “the buildings in town or the names of the people who lived here before,” but the from “the continued interest and dedication of residents to making this a great place to live.”

“Tilford W. Miller served his community well as a member of the Board of Education and Ina E. Driscoll — first as a teacher and then as a president — was responsible for the education of many students. They are two among many people who dedicated their lives to the town of Wilton,” said Schwemm.

Schwemm noted that school buildings in Wilton have had name changes in the past.

For example, she said, “Middle School East became Middlebrook … and Angeline Post School is now The Montessori School.”

Schwemm said she doesn’t think it would be hard for anyone living in Wilton to find “educators and community volunteers worthy of memorializing” through the naming of a school.

“We are in a great position. We’re opening a brand new grade school, basically — built with the pieces of Miller and Driscoll schools.”

Schwemm said Miller-Driscoll School is a “living monument to Wilton’s commitment to public education and to future Wilton children.”

“It is greater than the pieces of Driscoll and Miller schools,” she said, “and Wilton should honor it with a new name.”

Board member Christine Finkelstein said she could not support renaming Miller-Driscoll.

“I think naming a facility for an individual is probably the biggest tribute you can give to an individual, so you do it thoughtfully, you do it carefully, and you do it randomly, “which is why one of the first things that I felt strongly about when I joined the board was that we really should put some restrictions on naming,” said Finkelstein.

“In fact, we did adopt a policy [in which] we discouraged the naming of facilities after people.”

Finkelstein said the board should respect the fact that “40 to 50 years ago, the people sitting in these seats chose to name those buildings after Miller and Driscoll.”

“We can’t sit here and say we know better than they did or override their decision because the times have changed — it’s history. We can’t just wash it away because we’ve changed our minds ... I think it wouldn’t be right to do that,” she said.

“I know it’s just the name of a building, but to those people who made those decisions and the two individuals who were honored with that naming — I think we owe it to the history of our town to continue to honor those individuals.”

Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly said the board received two emails, one of which was from a Wilton teacher who “pointed out that the property used to be Benedict Farm and if we were to explore a new name, perhaps the Benedict Farm Elementary School would be in keeping with Wilton’s history.”

The other individual, Likly said, stated that “the name does already reflect Wilton history and it’s a beautiful facility, but do we really have a compelling need to change the name of the facility, which not only brings with it the cost of the signage, but also all the stationery and everything else?”

“There is a significant cost involved in making that change,” said Likly.

“It does not appear that we have strong consensus one way or the other, so it would be my feeling that as board chair ... that we not put this on as a decision to explore any change at this time.”

Likly recognized that his decision would “not be taken well” by “some in the community,” but said “we [the education board] have more important tasks ahead of us as we look to continue to improve our curriculum and other aspects of our district.”