To quote a statement made by Lee school board member Melisa Giovannelli during the board briefing meeting on October 31: “Gateway has spoken.”
Indeed Gateway did speak. And emailed. And petitioned. And voted. And liked and shared. And gave public comment. And showed up in empty fields. And contacted the media. And so on and so on.
And after two relentless campaigns – one in 2017 to urge to Lee County School District to build the school on Griffin Drive instead of another site in Alva, and this one in 2019 over the name of the school – all the speaking (and perhaps sometimes outspokenness) paid off.
I realize this is not news at this point, but as of last night it is 100% official: the name of the school will be Gateway High School.
As for the actual vote by the board members to approve the name? Blink, and you would have missed it.
The agenda item to name MMM was added as a “good cause” item at the beginning of the November 5 board meeting and inserted into the consent agenda. The board members had all agreed to using this procedure at their October 31 meeting. Since none of the board members objected to the name it was not “pulled” for additional discussion and so it was simply voted on within the entire consent agenda itself – which was approved 7-0.
A few confused members of the audience were left wondering if the name vote had even occurred. As someone who has sadly wasted too many hours watching local boards operate, I knew what was happening. But if you make better use of your time than I do and weren’t sure if the vote to name the school actually happened, rest assured that it did… and it was approved 7-0.
Two things. Principal Neketa Watson must help select and approve the school’s mascot and colors, and there will be a groundbreaking ceremony on November 13.
Bonita Springs High School unveiled their mascot, the Bullshark (which is awesome by the way), at their groundbreaking ceremony in March 2017. So will the school district follow suit with Gateway and reveal that school’s mascot at the same time? Possibly. But Bonita’s naming process was an absolute piece of cake compared to what happened with Gateway High School. I don’t recall Bonita’s name coming down to the wire like this. So stay tuned, I guess.
Mercifully, there is only one more major article to write about the MMM naming process: an A to Z accounting of the controversial role Giovannelli played in all this. Beginning with the now infamous MLK email and ending with her vote to approve the Gateway High School name.
Why not look at Gwynetta Gittens? Why not the whole board? Because Giovannelli is the school board member who represents Gateway. The article will not be published until after the groundbreaking ceremony.
I will spoil the ending though: when push came to shove … Giovannelli privately signaled two weeks ago that she heard the public loud and clear – and she did use her vote to honor the public’s wishes. So regardless of anything else that occurred in the beginning, her actual vote at the end should carry a ton of weight with the community.
So congratulations to all the Gateway residents who attended the dozen or so meetings over the past two years, to all those who voted, supported, cheered and contacted school district officials to make sure you were heard. It is a level of community engagement I doubt the Lee School District will ever see again.
And nothing against Thomas Edison … who received the second highest vote total for the school name, or Martin Luther King Jr or Gabriela Mistral who were third and fourth respectively … but anything other than Gateway High School would have been an absolute shame. And a wasted opportunity to connect with the community.
So if you’re reading this in the year 2031 as part of a research project to find out how the school district arrived at the decision to select the name “Gateway High School”… know that a community united together with a common goal, engaged themselves in the political process for months, and ultimately were able to influence and convince the elected school board to listen to the will of the people and choose the best possible name.
A textbook lesson in civics, and proof that your voice can make a difference.