For decades, Waterford's Board of Education's stated policy was not to name any school property after anyone. A Waterford High School graduate could go on to become president of the United States and, based on school board policy, there would be no way to note that anywhere on school property.
Finally, after years of lobbying by residents who feel strongly that notable citizens deserve to be memorialized, the Board of Education is poised to consider the issue.
On Tuesday, the Policy Committee for the Board of Education agreed to recommend changing the existing policy to allow naming school property after people of note. The committee's draft proposal will be taken up by the Board of Education at its meeting on Thursday.
To be clear, the committee didn't recommend changing the names of the schools themselves. The intent is to keep existing school names, which reflect their geographical location in Waterford, but it would allow for naming a library, a gym, or an athletic field, for a particularly outstanding person.
The decision to bring this to the Board of Education for consideration was welcome news to many who attended the meeting.
"Thirty years ago, I wanted the policy changed," said Tom Passaro, himself a former Board of Education member.
"It is appropriate to consider a change in this policy to recognize major contributors to our educational system," agreed Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward, who also spoke in favor of the idea. "For many years, we have seen other communities recognize their exemplary people by naming facilities in their honor."
Waterford School Superintendent Jerome Belair, who previously worked in East Lyme's school district which does name buildings after its prominent citizens, recommended setting the bar high for potential nominees if the board does vote to change its policy.
"Having lived this, you will tend to get a flood of requests," he said.
Based on the policies of other towns and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the criteria may require the following:
- A petition signed by at least 100 people.
- A career that spanned more than a decade in the community.
- Someone who has served the town and the school district in a significant way.
- Someone of exemplary character (and a background check may be required to verify that).
Steward spoke on behalf of a group of 400 people who have amassed more than 700 signatures on a petition to name at least some part of the new high school after Francis Sweeney, who taught and coached generations of Waterford students, served on the Board of Education, supervised lifeguards and taught swimming for Recreation and Parks, and raised his family in Waterford.
"There is a loud outcry here for the ability to recognize one of our own educators who served our community in several ways over his more than 50 years of active service," said Steward. "In this particular case, we are suggesting naming the field house in Mr. Francis X. Sweeney's honor."