True confessions of a School Board Trustee


Email Sandra Nichols

  " What if we recognize that a win is not necessarily getting one's own way on any one particular issue, but rather making powerful contributions in a public debate and being respected and welcomed to continue participation? . . ."


 have been accused. Accused of talking to the people. Accused of listening with an open mind. Accused of being friendly. Accused of attending National Night Out with my friends and neighbors. Accused of talking to people on both sides of the aisle regarding the high school naming.

Before I confess, I want to share my thoughts with you on a matter that I consider of utmost importance. The issues are civil rights and civil behavior and how these relate to the naming of the high school. Checking my dictionary, "civil" has multiple meanings including those used above. Referring to rights, it means "relating to the private rights of individuals" and referring to behavior, it means "polite."

The naming of the high school brings together civil rights — including the right to speak out, garner support via petition drives, present oneself before governing bodies and offer opinions - and civil behavior — the politeness of speaking in turn and with respect for the rights of fellow human beings. Our situation calls for both civil rights and civil behavior.

I have heard it expressed that naming the high school has become a no-win situation. I believe there is a win-win option and I suggest that to you now.

What if we consider the naming project a community event that has opened new avenues of communication between the people and their elected representatives? What if we hail the new voices that have spoken on both sides of the issue? What if we welcome enthusiastically the participation of all community members?

What if we recognize that a win is not necessarily getting one's own way on any one particular issue, but rather making powerful contributions in a public debate and being respected and welcomed to continue participation?

Here we are performing our civic duties and exercising our civil rights in front of a new generation. Young people are getting involved and wanting to get their feet wet in the political process. Let's show them how civil behavior is respected and opens the door on a bright future for our community! Let's show them that advocating a particular point of view is a respected civil right.

I am fairly sure that a name will be settled upon soon! Threats have been bandied about from both sides. Demands and threats are neither polite nor productive. I suggest to all that civility will be the best path to take. Let's stand up for non-violence, tolerance, and respect. Let's be good models of peace and let's promote further positive participation in the system.

Our community is special. I felt this very strongly on Tuesday afternoon when I went to River Park to celebrate safe communities and family values on our National Night Out. There I saw Jose Sanchez whom I consider a friend and co-worker in the movement towards a well-educated and politically involved community. I met Jose originally through his involvement in the Rural Technology Project. I also recognize him as the leader of the Cesar Chavez for High School naming campaign. As I spoke with him, he showed me that he was in the process of collecting signatures and support for that campaign. He told his companions who I was and that they could express themselves to me. A few did so, expressing their support for their name preference.

Now, I was seen in public — caught in the act of being myself — talking to people, enthusiastically encouraging them to participate in the democratic process. In fact at River Park I listened to community members, some who advocated for the name Cesar Chavez and some who opposed that name.

Within 24 hours I learned a complaint had been lodged that I was gathering signatures for the Cesar Chavez naming campaign.

That accusation is completely false, although I submit that if it were true it would still be within my rights. I have been advocating for community involvement and respect, not any particular name.

Time for the promised confession. I confess. I have many friends who want the new high school to be named after the civil rights champion of the farm workers, Cesar Chavez, and I have many friends who object strongly to that name.

I also confess that I attended National Night Out to have fun and talk with people and support this community event. I confess that I met with people who advocated their point of view and I further confess that I have encouraged all people, including but not limited to young people, to participate in the democratic process.

I confess that I am optimistic that a name will be chosen and that the community will respect not only the process and the resulting decision, but also those called upon to make the decision.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, August 10, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2002