School naming in the Katy Independent School District is taken very seriously, almost like “naming your child,” school officials state. According to Kris Taylor, Director of Communications for KISD, “Naming a school is an elemental step in creating the climate and image of the school community.” A schools name will lead into the school colors, mascot, letterhead, logo, and spirit, and just like naming your own child you must research the names available to you before deciding on just the right one.
In KISD, the research conducted for the naming of a school includes a nomination process and research into the geographical location of the school. Many schools in KISD are named either as a result of geographical/subdivision location and according to deed restrictions, or to honor some person, place or thing special to the community or a community leader. Morton Ranch High School is so named because it is located in the Morton Ranch area, off Morton Road and many of the attendees of this school are from that area. When I first arrived here, I imagined that at least one of them would be named George Bush; after all, we have the airport and the park, why not a school? But the nomination process goes deeper than just any leader, but the individual must be a leader in the Katy community. The policy for naming is very open ended. However, certain consistencies seemed to have developed. For example, many of the High Schools seem to have been named for geographical location. Middle schools have a huge variation, but consistently honor local people or local educators, those who have made a monumental difference in the lives of the school district.
For the nomination process, names are submitted and a letter or other documentation is submitted to support the nomination. Documents may include letters of recommendation, news clippings or other statements of special sacrifices, community participation or other almost “heroic” deeds that this individual may have made for the school district or community. The person may or may not have moved away or may be deceased, however their participation in the community lives on thus making them eligible for nomination. Those nominated or chosen should have had a significant impact or contribution to Katy and have some sort of local or historical relevance. In the event that the namesake of certain schools continues to reside or participate within the district or community is a source of excitement and inspiration. Both students and parents alike can celebrate in the achievements of their school and its namesake.
A database is kept with all nominations and when a new school is built the nomination database is accessed and the school board begins the naming process. The database includes links to these very touching stories of participation in the community. Board members can access the links and read these moving stories of activities that have occurred in the community, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, but which have gone unknown. Although the nomination process may include several nominations for an individual it is not a “poll” or voting process. A person with the most nominations does not automatically “win.” The school board feels very strongly that each and every nomination must be reviewed. Each supporting document or statement should be read. The nominations are personal, touching and moving with a great deal of thought and effort expended to submit and support the nominations and the board takes great pride in being able thoroughly review the nominations and to serve their community in this special way.
In some cases though, naming of a school is very easy. For example, a new elementary school which is scheduled to be opened in 2008 will be named Woodcreek Reserve elementary, due to the deed restrictions provided upon use of the land for the elementary school.
Why is this so important? First, there are four new schools to be opened in the 2008-2009 academic year. With four schools being opened the naming process becomes increasingly important because it sets the tone for the identity of the school. At this time, two of the four schools have been named and the school board is currently accepting nominations for the remaining two schools, one of which is elementary and the other a middle school. There is no time for delay in submitting a nomination as decisions on a school’s name start at the beginning of the calendar year. For the schools to be opened in 2008; that are still to be named, the school board will be reviewing nominations in January 2008.
It is also important because the names chosen for the school are a lasting legacy. The questions the board asks itself while reviewing the nominations are: What does or did this person or place represent to the community? How are or were they inspiring to the community, the school district, and/or the children in Katy. Much of the time those chosen are those who have served the school district and community with distinction and are someone of inspiration. For example, Mike Griffin spent his whole educational career in KISD, first teaching Mathematics and even serving as an interim Superintendent. He has been a leader in the district and well loved by students, parents and administrators alike as well as providing a happy and healthy educational experience. Beckendorf Junior High was so named for the Beckendorf family, who since the beginning of the City of Katy, have been involved in the education of its children, either through teaching, donations, volunteering, scholarships and helping to establish the school district from its inception. Most relevant in my neighborhood is T.H. McDonald Middle School. Upon finding out how important the choice of a school name is and the significance of each choice, I decided to research the middle school for my area and find out what makes it so special – what is the legacy that it inherited?
T. H. McDonald Middle School was dedicated on October 13, 1991 to providing a “stimulating environment for junior high students while building positive self-esteem and developing responsibility,” (Katy Times, Oct. 1991). The school was so named based on the actions and attitudes of its namesake, T.H. (Howard) McDonald who from 1960-1987 was a teacher, counselor, coach, and administrator in KISD. At the dedication, architect John Farrell who with his partner, was responsible for the design of the building reminisced about “Coach Mac,” and stated how his intelligence, integrity, dedication to the students, competitive spirit and patriotism lead students and athletes who encountered him by example.
T.H. McDonald, Jr. was a native of Texas, and came from a family that believed in livelong service to the community and the state. His father was a teacher, coach, and later became a State Representative, a position for which he was elected for three terms. His mother was also a teacher, and both parents were active in their community church and other charitable organizations. The McDonald Middle School in Mesquite, Texas was named after his father, and thus Mr. McDonald Junior carries on a long legacy of contributions to his community. McDonald earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1953 and his Master’s degree in Education from East Texas State Teachers College. Prior to his involvement in KISD, he was a teacher in Ennis and Corsicana. He completed his administration certification at the University of Houston.
McDonald’s contributions to the community of Katy did not end with the school day. He was actively involved in many professional organizations as well as non profit and local community organizations such as the Katy Rotary Club, Committee Drug Abuse Council, member of various booster clubs and a former Merit Badge Counselor.
His was not your run of the mill relationship with the schools, administrators or students. Many of his former students and colleagues agree that McDonald has a special ability to mentor and provide direction to students and co workers alike. He understood what would motivate them and provided inspiration in many different manners. He had a wonderful sense of humor and an intuition which allowed him to find out what a student needed and the ability to provide them with the direction or assistance that they needed.
Just to list a few of his accomplishments, McDonald, at the time of this dedication, was one of the most successful basketball coaches in Katy High history. He led his basketball team to four district championships, and during his last year as a coach was also a student counselor. Mr. McDonald was executive director of instructional services at the time of his death in 1987.
Not only has he served the community but his legacy continues years after his passing. His daughter teaches within KISD, he is remembered fondly by many administrators, teachers, coaches, students and graduates of KISD whom he mentored, advised, coached and taught. Upon his passing his family established the T.H. McDonald Jr. Scholarship Fund with the goal of continuing on his goal of providing a quality education. The very essence of KISD is exhibited through the Katy High School spirit song, written by McDonald. Upon renovations of Katy High School a special plaque was created from the boards of the stage and bricks from the building to commemorate his contributions to this high school and presented it to his wife, years after his passing. Although our children today do not know this fine man, because of his legacy they do know of his contributions, and commitment that have helped to make made to the school district and the community achieve the level of success that it has today.
If you are a member of the Katy community and you know someone who has been an inspiration to your student, community, yourself, and the school district you can submit your nomination to: School Naming or by contacting Sharon Nowak, Board Secretary, Katy ISD, P.O. Box 159, Katy, TX 77492-0159. Your nomination should be directed to the Katy ISD Board of Trustees. The letter should be approximately 200 words in length, explaining why the particular name is deserving of the honor. Other supplemental materials, such as news clippings, letters of recommendation and/or other printed resources that would assist the board in making a decision, are also accepted. Maybe you too can participate in leaving a living legacy in the Katy Independent School District, Katy, Texas.