School-names votes nears end in Kent

(Original Publication: March 16, 2005)

Although Kent Primary School expanded to house third grade in September, Ellen Sorrento said, her 8-year-old daughter refused to stay in the "baby school" after she completed second grade.

So Sorrento transferred her daughter to Kent Elementary School, which currently houses first through fourth grade, because she wanted her daughter to feel comfortable.

"She was so upset that she was being left in the baby school," said Sorrento, a Carmel resident who also has a first-grader. "And that is not me saying, 'Oh, you're in the baby school.' ... That is years of people saying that."

To combat that stereotype, a group of Carmel school district parents and teachers has asked residents to rename Kent Primary and Kent Elementary schools. Initially, the Spirit Committee asked Kent Primary and Kent Elementary families for name suggestions with historical significance. Three names for each school were selected, and each household in the district now gets one vote. Ballots were mailed in the Carmel Schoolhouse News, the district newsletter, and are due by Friday.

The district's business office will count the votes and release the results to the Board of Education before the end of the month, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Ronald Wilson.

Renaming the schools was first proposed last year, when the district decided to make both schools kindergarten through fourth-grade buildings. At the time, Kent Primary housed kindergarten through second grade and Kent Elementary housed second through fourth grades. The transition will be complete by September.

Although renaming the schools was supposed to unite the expansive school district ­ which serves about 5,000 students from six towns ­ the project has instead alienated and angered hundreds of residents.

Leading with the charge of "Keep our history! Keep our name! Vote to keep Kent Primary and Kent Elementary the same!" is Lisa Mihalatos, a 39-year Kent resident who attended Kent Primary as a child. From phone calls to door-to-door campaigning, Mihalatos and a coalition of nearly two dozen parents have collected more than 700 signatures of protest.

"They have to let it be known and heard that they don't want the change; they don't want them spending the money foolishly," said Mihalatos, who has two children in the district. "This is a waste of taxpayers' dollars."

Renaming the schools will cost about $2,000, which will be taken from the operations and maintenance component of the school budget, Wilson said. Opponents of the project, however, doubt the cost will be so low and have complained to the Kent Town Board. In response, the board unanimously declared its opposition in a March 1 resolution.

Kent Supervisor William Tulipane said the board approved the resolution to help save taxpayers from the cost of the project and to preserve a portion of Kent's historical heritage.

"We object most strenuously to a change just for the sake of a change," he said. "It's just another assault on the town of Kent."

Susan Harisch, who attended Kent Primary and now has four children in the district, said although she doesn't think the names should change at all, she would be especially appalled if Kent Primary becomes Carmel Elementary School. If it does, Harisch said, she expects "some serious upheaval" from the Kent community. And she would know: She has collected hundreds of petitions against the proposal.

"If it becomes Carmel Elementary, I don't know what I'll do," said Harisch, a Kent resident. "I will literally be sick to my stomach."

Yet, such disgust confuses Michole Boeri, who said reading about the proposed names not only taught her about local history, but also helped her family to interact. She said she believes most people oppose renaming the schools because they are listening to talk about the cost and intention of the project that's untrue.

"It's not hurting the children; it's helping them," said Boeri of Lake Carmel. "I was able to bring my kids into it, and we got really excited about writing a new chapter in our school's history."

Proposed names

Kent Primary School:

• Carmel Elementary School

• Sybil Ludington Elementary School

• Townsend Ridge Elementary School

• Other

Kent Elementary School:

• Kent Elementary School

• Daniel David Nimham Elementary School

• Farmers Mills Elementary School

• Other

To cast a vote, bring an original ballot to the main office of any school or mail it to Kent Primary School, 1065 Route 52, Carmel, NY 10512, Attention: Spirit Committee. No copies will be accepted.


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Wednesday, March 16, 2005