UNION CITY -- A majority of the New Haven school board will vote next month to rename a school in honor of two Filipino-American leaders, said board members at a meeting Tuesday, hours after 150 people demonstrated nearby in support of the idea.
Jonas Dino was one of the school board members who spoke in support of renaming Alvarado Middle School in honor of Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, Filipino-American leaders who helped organize the farm labor movement with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s.
Dino said that Union City -- where one of every five residents is of Filipino heritage -- would benefit from the name change because it would make history and recognize its large Filipino-American community in one fell swoop.
"Just think of the notoriety we will have around the state, the nation and the world for being the first district to name a school after Filipino-Americans," Dino said.
As he spoke, dozens of supporters -- many wearing T-shirts bearing Itliong's and Vera Cruz's names and faces -- silently stood and raised their left fists.
School board members Michelle Matthews and Linda Canlas said at the meeting that they agree with Dino. The remaining trustees, Michael Ritchie and Sarabjit Cheema, said they still are undecided. The five-member board expects to vote on the issue at an April 16 meeting, where the district's Facilities Names Committee will submit three naming options.
Most speakers at Tuesday's meeting said they support honoring the Filipino-American leaders. The one speaker opposing the idea, Lance Nishihira, said the Filipino community deserves recognition but questioned the proposal's timing and cost.
Nishihira said all 10 members of the Alvarado Middle School/School Site Council, a panel of parents and teachers who oversee and aid the school's operation, oppose the renaming because the brand recognition of Alvarado Middle School, which boasts a strong academic reputation, is too strong to cast aside. "We've created a fantastic reputation and we don't want to have to start over," said Nishihira, who serves as chair of the council.
He said the cost to change the name would be better spent on children's education. The plan's proponents have promised to offset the $10,000 price tag, but Nishihira said after the meeting that he has seen no guarantees over important budget details, such as who pays if there is a cost overrun.
Earlier Tuesday evening, Filipino-American students and community leaders marched more than three miles, from Alvarado Middle School to the district office, in support of the renaming. The march ended at James Logan High, where several students waved signs, chanted slogans and delivered speeches with a bullhorn while standing on the bed of a pickup truck. One of the speakers was Gabriel Flores, a 12th-grade Filipino-American student, who said Itliong and Vera Cruz reflected the diversity of Union City because they worked alongside Hispanic farm workers. "They helped get workers better rights and they worked on creating interethnic solidarity," Flores said.
The middle school was chosen for renaming because the city's Alvarado neighborhood -- named for former Mexican Governor Juan Batista Alvarado -- already contains two schools, a street and a park that carry his name. A street, Alvarado-Niles Road, cuts through the city's eastern side. "The middle school has the name Alvarado because it was built adjacent to Alvarado Elementary School," Matthews said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.