Webster Magnet Elementary is honoring the president and first lady because they "walk the walk" when it comes to service, the principal said
Barack Obama has thwarted one more election opponent.
A St. Paul elementary school has voted to officially change its name to "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary," pending approval of the school board.
Webster Magnet Elementary is in its first year of a service learning program, and the school wanted a new name to reflect the shift in focus. The site council, made up of parents and community members, put the Obama name and "Webster Service Learning Elementary" on the ballot.
Students, staff and St. Paul residents were invited to cast ballots Thursday. The Obama name came away with roughly 60 percent of the 854 votes cast.
"I heard cheers coming from the lunch room when I made the announcement to the school," said Principal Lori Simon.
The name is meant to honor the Obamas' commitment to service learning, she said.
The Webster school name has been around since the 1880s, even though the current Webster building was built in 1925. The school is named after statesman Daniel Webster.
According to district policy, new school names, programs, mascots and logos "shall reflect the diversity of the district," and need to be approved by the school board, "in consultation with the school community."
The school board will vote on May 19.
Board member Tom Conlon, the board's sole Republican, said he plans to vote against the name change. He thinks naming schools after politicians -- Republican or Democratic -- should come at the end of a politician's career, or even life, and pointed to "Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary" in downtown St. Paul as an example.
"Look at what happened in Anchorage," Conlon said. "They named the airport after [former Republican Sen.] Ted Stevens, and then he got indicted. When this is happening just three months into office, it just seems premature."
Webster is not the first school in the country to change its name to honor President Obama. Ludlum Elementary School on Long Island in New York decided to name itself "Barack Obama Elementary School" in November, and a handful of schools nationwide have followed suit. The White House declined to comment on Webster's decision.
Obama won the school's mock election in November by a landslide, and his election as the country's first black president means that in the school where three-quarters of the students are black, "a lot of people are happy," third-grader Tiera Abdullah said, while helping run the voting precinct in the school's media center this week.
But that's not why the school was drawn to the name, Simon said.
Simon brought the service learning focus to the school this year, her second full year at the school, to integrate giving back to the community and leading a life of service into the curriculum.
When the vote totals were parsed, Obama won the student and parent vote, but the 159 community and staff members who voted favored keeping the Webster name by 57 to 42 percent.
Changing a school's name is "an emotional process," Conlon said, "and it isn't really just about who is there now, but over the life of the school and its history."
The voting process was run by the third-grade classes, whose service learning focus this year was the "Democratic Process."
One third-grader at the school, Shemar Nelson, isn't convinced that the Obama name is for him, either. He likes that the Webster name has been around a while. And he has a practical concern, too.
"Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary is too long to say," he said.
Emily Johns • 612-673-7460