A learning facility within the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District could soon be named after a former president and his First Lady.
The naming of the district’s future Project Based Learning campus — located Olympic High School at 721 Ocean Park Boulevard — was discussed at a Thursday, May 16 board meeting.
The board proposed naming the site after former president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, dubbing the space The Michelle and Barack Obama’s Center for Inquiry and Exploration.
“This is about the politics of recognition and honoring the hope, inspiration and commitment to civic duty in the spirit of the Obamas as we launch a new PBL program,” Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, President of the board, began.
“Seeing as we’ve named our schools for presidents, to name a site for the first black president, when we know the long story of this country and of the racial divisions, what it will say to our community and students and the state of California, I think, is significant and worthy of this discussion.”
The board unanimously agreed with Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
Board members said naming the campus after the Obamas would promote discourse and collaboration while letting students of color know they are supported and accepted, with Craig Foster saying he couldn’t think of a more appropriate 21st-century leader to name the district’s 21st-century learning campus after.
Perhaps most enthusiastic for the potential naming was Oscar de la Torre. De la Torre, who routinely addresses racial issues within the community and at school board meetings, said the name will spark positive change.
“We talk about cultural relevance and importance of that,” de la Torre began. “The naming of this space is important. There is a legacy of racial segregation and its appropriate for us to remedy that, for us to practice the concept of reparations, restoring harm that was done. This is a step in the right direction. I like that that it’s named not just after the president, but after Michelle, too. He didn’t get there by himself and it’s wonderful to recognize Michelle, as well.”
De la Torre said there still needs to be more staff and curriculum that reflect students that would be inspired by the name change. Some public speakers echoed that sentiment, with their tone overall positive. Former Samohi students, parents and community members all came to celebrate the proposed name change.
The board said they will seek the communities input on the name change and will return the item to the board as an action item at a later date.