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Identity Crisis : Community: The decision to change the name of a 45-block area of Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks leaves junior high in an odd position.

August 23, 1991|JOCELYN Y. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sitting on a bench at Van Nuys Junior High, 12-year-old Augustine Bradley contemplated renaming her school.

"If I could change the name of the school," she said, "I would name it after Christa McAuliffe," the teacher-astronaut who died in the Challenger space shuttle disaster. "A lot of people right here at this school have been dramatically changed by people like her."

Augustine's wish may come true.

Councilman Marvin Braude's decision to rename a 45-block area in Van Nuys as Sherman Oaks leaves the school in the odd position of bearing a geographically inappropriate name.

Some in the community have wondered if the school will become Sherman Oaks Junior High School, but school administrators and students have other ideas.

"The logic of a school being named after a (community) is a thing of the past," said principal Cecilia Costas. "Schools today are named after people."

Costas hopes to name the school after an individual such as McAuliffe who will provide a role model for students. The school added a math and science magnet last year.

"There've been a lot of names thrown around," she said. "I don't know what we'll end up with."

"Some of the kids want to call it Graceland, after Elvis, or Bo Knows," said social studies teacher Jackie Hansen.

"Personally I kind of hate to see (the name) go," said Hansen, a Van Nuys native who attended Van Nuys Elementary School, Van Nuys Junior High School and Van Nuys High School.

Arguing that the area was a part of Sherman Oaks until the 1960s when ZIP codes were instituted, area residents presented Braude with a petition and original deeds bearing the name Sherman Oaks. Earlier this week the councilman decided to rename the area Sherman Oaks.

As in other Valley communities that have changed names, many residents hope to reap the benefits that come with being associated with a more affluent community, such as higher property values.

But Costas had been thinking about a school name change before the recent rash of new community titles.

"We're into making some magical changes for our kids that we hope will make our school a powerful learning experience, and one of the things connected to that is the name change," she said.

Students greeted news of the community name change, and a possible new school name, with bewilderment.

Walking through campus, Haydee Meza, 14, and her friends were shocked when they heard the news. "They changed the name?" she asked, looking puzzled. "Why?"

"But we're used to that," her friend Diana Alvarenga said.

Seventh-grader Rudy Harden wasn't impressed either.

"I like it as it is," he said. "It's really appropriate for the school since we're so close to Van Nuys Boulevard."

But the school's name cannot be changed overnight.

Before adopting a new name, according to school district rules, Costas must consult with faculty, staff, students, parents, the PTA and others in the community to come up with an alternative.

The findings are then submitted, along with background information, to the district's School-Naming Committee and then to the Board of Education for consideration.

The process begins in February and, if approved, the school can begin using the new name in July. Van Nuys Junior High School has not officially started that process.

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