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School name sparks battle
Personal and political considerations complicate the renaming of the MOSI school.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 13, 2007
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
Students at the new school at the Museum of Science and Industry chose the name they wanted it to be called: MOSI Partnership. That name will likely change.
TAMPA - In uneven, oversized letters, the children wrote the name they want for the new school at the Museum of Science and Industry.
MOSI Partnership, with a bubble over the "i."
They've been using that name since the school opened in August. Principal Cheryl Dafeldecker pleaded the case at the last School Board meeting, before the vote on the official school name.
"Keep us our MOSI Magic," she said, invoking their mascot.
If only it were so easy. The kids were up against organized petition drives for local African-American leaders and a pitch for recently deceased John J. Iorio, a longtime University of South Florida professor and the father of Tampa's mayor.
After deadlocking, the board put off a decision between the MOSI Partnership and Iorio names until all members were present.
In this case, Hillsborough finds itself in the unusual position of naming a school that's already up and running. But drama over school names is nothing new.
Lobbying can be intense over the opportunity to name a school for a favorite civic leader. Geography is always fair game - think Westchase Elementary. Some think there's a sweet spot for prominent educators.
There's no magic formula.
Just ask Hector Vila, one of seven brothers whose collective military service spans World War II to Operation Desert Storm. He sought to place the name "Vila Brothers" on a middle school opening in Citrus Park.
Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter of support, along with a who's who of local politicians, from Public Defender Julianne Holt to County Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Brian Blair.
Alas for the Vilas, it wasn't enough. After two votes at the board meeting last week, applause rang out for Sgt. Paul R. Smith Middle School, recognizing a former Hillsborough student posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Iraq.
While Vila was pleased to see a soldier honored, he wonders what it will take to see a Vila Brothers school. In a previous attempt, he collected signatures for a petition drive, at the suggestion of a school official. Two thousand names later, it didn't do the trick.
"I learned in the Marine Corps, if you go take this route and you're not successful, you try another one," the 76-year-old veteran said, proudly touting his USMC Korea service on a polo shirt.
He pondered his next move at the kitchen table. "You just keep trying until your mission is complete."
For Fran Costantino, that may involve compromise.
She is leading the Iorio push on behalf of the East Ybor Historic and Civic Association. After the board's tie vote, she proposed as a compromise the Dr. John J. Iorio Elementary School at MOSI.
"I think it's just a waste when we name schools after geographic references and subdivisions," Costantino said.
Others, though, have lobbied for geographic names as a way to foster a sense of community.
Costantino shied away from a petition drive, given Iorio's high-profile daughter. If she had made the decision political, she thinks the effort could have seen a better chance of succeeding on the first try.
"The system is fundamentally flawed, and it needs to be revisited," she said, suggesting a points system to vet candidates. "It should be on merit."
Carol Kurdell, Hillsborough's longest-serving board member, has named well in excess of 60 schools. She finds few decisions more emotional.
"It's never easy," Kurdell said. "People need to understand that we take it very seriously."
Petitions and letter-writing campaigns don't sway her, although she appreciates the input. She says a conversation sometimes makes the difference.
Nothing is set in stone. She initially voted for the MOSI Partnership name, but might reconsider on the tiebreaker.
The museum's president hopes she'll wait until the next school.
"There will always be a new elementary school in town, and there will always be opportunities to name them after famous people," MOSI president Wit Ostrenko said. "But there will only be one school at MOSI."
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.