Renaming committee highlights six exemplary lives

Palo Alto school district's committee nominates exemplars of innovation, inclusion, integrity

The Palo Alto Unified School District is considering renaming two middle schools, Jordan and Terman, after either geographical markers or outstanding Palo Altans (from top left): Ellen Fletcher, Frank Greene Jr., William Hewlett, Edith Johnson, Fred Yamamoto and Anna Zschokke. Photos courtesy Palo Alto Historical Association; Palo Alto Weekly.

For the past year, the Palo Alto Unified School District has been engaged in a process of gathering and vetting names for two of its middle schools. The following biographies of the six nominees are excerpted from the report of the Recommending School Names Advisory Committee and from interviews with committee members and others familiar with the nominees' lives. The committee, as requested by the board, also recommended two geographical markers.

Find out what Palo Altans have to say about the nominees in Palo Altans debate: 'What's in a name?'.

Ellen Fletcher

Ellen Fletcher was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the U.S. as a young woman. She devoted over 40 years to civic leadership in service to the Palo Alto community. She is best known for her advocacy for cycling and environmental issues.

In her own words: "You don't have to be a young athlete to ride a bike. Everyone can do it at any age," Fletcher told the Palo Alto Weekly in 2011.

In others' words: "Ellen devoted herself — her passion, her time, her persistence, and her considerable talents as an advocate — to making Palo Alto a better place," the committee's report states. "The tangible fruits of her work are all around us: from the green-striped bike paths the students ride to school to the spirit embodied in the notion that local action can have global impact."

"She was very beloved by many," said Terry Fletcher, one of her daughters.

Ellen Fletcher, having witnessed the rise of Nazi Germany and the lack of opposition among her countrymen, taught her children to stand up in the face of social evils.

"I got a big message that you can't let that happen and you can't be a person that stands by," the younger Fletcher said.

Frank S. Greene Jr.

Frank S. Greene Jr. holds a patent for the design of the fastest memory chip of its time and was one of the first African-American founders of a publicly traded technology company. He founded a venture capital firm focused on support for women and minority startups.

In his own words: "We went to sit-ins to see if we could integrate some places around the school. We would sit there until the cops closed the place," Greene said of growing up and advocating for equality in the highly segregated St. Louis, Missouri, of the 1940s and 1950s. "Making it through life was a civil-rights activity in itself."

In others' words: "Greene's experiences with racism influenced the way he saw the world and how he wanted to change it for the better," the committee's report states.

Carolyn Wilkins-Greene, his ex-wife, said he was always interested in "what's right and what's just. ... He really felt that to do something constructive — like getting a solid education and following through all the way to a Ph.D. in his case — was the best antidote for these kinds of issues.

"Frank was intensely interested in seeing more students of color ... and women in the sciences and math. He felt like their capabilities were often overlooked and wanted to see these students succeed and excel," Wilkins-Greene said.

William R. Hewlett

William R. Hewlett was a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur and technologist who helped create innovative electronic products. He was a longtime Palo Alto resident and community leader whose philanthropy has had continuing positive impacts on the community and throughout the world.

In his own words: The HP Way is "a core ideology ... which includes a deep respect for the individual, a dedication to affordable quality and reliability, a commitment to community responsibility, and a view that the company exists to make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity."

In others' words: "Hewlett's commitment to the larger community was evident in how he ran his company and lived his life," the committee's report states. "He sought the best employees regardless of background. ... In his philanthropy and his life, he believed that those who had had the good fortune to succeed should devote themselves to the betterment of society."

"Hewlett embraced affirmative action, and he practiced diversity before it was even mandated," the report states.

Hewlett served the Palo Alto community in many ways, including serving on boards ranging from the Matadero Mosquito District to the Palo Alto-Stanford Medical Center to Stanford University.

Edith Johnson

Edith Johnson was Palo Alto's first female general physician, who practiced for more than 50 years, from 1907 to the 1960s. She was well-known for treating all patients regardless of race and ethnicity, from Napa to San Jose, often for no pay or for whatever amount patients could afford. A single woman, Johnson's life defied conventions and her long career was a model of service.

In her own words: "I have not found these people eager to accept charity," Johnson wrote about a community of Hispanic cannery workers. "They often beg me for some work to do in exchange for what I do for them. When possible, they send presents — a squab, a chicken, some fruit or vegetables."

In others' words: "I was struck by her straightforward nature, going to work every day," said Sara Woodham, a committee member who read Johnson's meticulously kept diaries. "Throughout it was clear that she was serving a base of patients that was extremely broad."

"She was also like a counselor," Woodham said. "She was in people's homes and involved in the less-than-ideal situations you don't want to be around."

Woodham believes there's are lessons students can learn from Johnson: "Find your purpose, follow your path, be open, be creative."

Fred Yamamoto

Fred Yamamoto is the committee's top pick for a middle school namesake. He was a Japanese-American Palo Altan who, despite forced incarceration in a Wyoming internment camp during World War II, volunteered to fight for his country. He was a youth leader who inspired others with his devotion to equality and community, the committee report states. A decorated soldier, he was killed in action in France.

In his own words: "Let us not be pessimistic, nor overly optimistic, but let us keep faith — faith in the dignity and goodness of man," he wrote upon arriving at the internment camp. "We have a tremendous task before us in bolstering morale of our younger brothers and sisters."

In others' words: Yamamoto's step-niece Pam Hashimoto, a retired educator, researched his life. Among his qualities: "He would seek to understand but did not dwell on blame or on his misfortune. ... He always looked for the best in anyone and everything and ways to create positive change."

"More than one friend of his would say, 'Everyone loved Fred.' He was warm, kind ... (and) looked up to as a leader and moral compass by many," she said.

Hashimoto believes he can be a role model for students: "He exemplified selflessness, courage, patriotism, love and faith in the future. ... qualities that will assist young students to learn resiliency and perseverance."

Anna Zschokke

Anna Zschokke (pronounced SHAW-key), a widow with three children, was a woman of action, a motivator and a risk-taker, the committee report states. She spearheaded the creation of Palo Alto's first public school and built the first high school building by mortgaging her home.

In her words: "We must have a school for the children of this community but our only available site is within two miles of the existing Mayfield school. ... We must have our school if there is to be a Palo Alto," Zschokke said.

In others' words: "For me what's inspiring about her is just how she advocated for her children's education," said her great-great-granddaughter Chauntelle Trefz. "Anna didn't take 'no' for an answer. She knocked on every single door until she got the thing that she needed to."

Another great-great-granddaughter, Shannon McElyea, noted Zschokke's steadfast love of community. "What inspired me about her was her courage and her community building," McElyea said. "She wasn't selfish at all. She was very generous with her time and with her spirit and with helping out everywhere she could."

Zschokke may have also been Palo Alto's first historian. She documented the first birth, the first wedding, the first grocery store and more.

"A lot of what we know is through her writing," Trefz said.

Adobe Creek

Adobe Creek flows immediately behind Terman Middle School. It's about 14 miles long and is one of several creeks in Palo Alto that originate in the Santa Cruz mountains. The lower section of the creek is now channelized to prevent flooding. Adobe is Spanish for "mudbrick" and refers to the mud and straw building materials that characterized many structures in Spanish California.

Redwood Grove

The Jordan Middle School campus include several stands of coast redwoods. The oldest redwoods have lived over 2,200 years and often exceed 300 feet. Because of their relatively shallow root depth, redwoods are most stable when they grow near each other, allowing their roots to intertwine for mutual support — a metaphor, the committee report notes, for students who each grow at their own rate but form bonds to support each other.


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52 people like this
Posted by Another exemplary life
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2018 at 9:51 am

Frederick (Fred) Terman

Fred Terman was an American professor and academic administrator. He is widely credited (together with William Shockley) as being the father of Silicon Valley.
Just before World War II, Terman dedicated some of the unused land on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto to an industrial park, the first university-owned industrial park in the world. He encouraged two of his graduate students, William Hewlett and David Packard, to form a company and house it on campus. Without Fred Terman, the West Coast wouldn’t be home to the world-changing industry.

In World War II, Dr. Terman organized and directed the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University, a large-scale program to develop reconnaissance equipment and devises to foil enemy radar. Postwar analysts claimed the more than 150 radar countermeasures developed there saved approximately 800 Allied bombers and their crews. His work earned him the United States Medal for Merit in 1948.

In 1976, Terman was awarded a National Medal of Science. In 1977, he attended the dedication of the $9.2 million Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Center. In 1978, he received Stanford's Uncommon Man Award.

Frederick Terman's idea of associating the industry more closely with the university was revolutionary. Frederick fueled partnerships between northern California’s electronics companies and academia, courted tech companies to move to the industrial park to help his graduates find work, and drove excellence in how scientists and engineers trained. He “made Stanford a well of ideas, experts and books”, the New York Times noted in his obituary. And he offered priceless mentorship to students like Bill Hewlett and David Packard, who founded the computer company Hewlett-Packard, now called HP."

Tell me why, again, the committee doesn't consider Fred Terman worthy of consideration as the name of one of our schools?

32 people like this
Posted by PAer
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Mar 23, 2018 at 10:29 am

@Another exemplary life - I totally agree with you!

PAUSD needs to put this "renaming" drama to an end immediately and focus on more important issues in the school district. Just because you already put lots efforts into the renaming process, it doesn’t mean you have to keep going on. Admitting you were wrong doesn’t make you weak!

15 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:02 am

James Thurber is a registered user.

The Yamamoto name has been tossed carelessly about with recent headlines slamming the potential remaining of Terman after Frederick Yamamoto, interned first in an American prison camp before volunteering to fight in Europe and being killed in action in France,

However, as a former Naval officer and historian I have great respect for Admiral Isorou Yamamoto, who not only attended Harvard but strenuously recommended against bombing Pearl Harbor.

Being overruled by General Tojo he then carried out one of the finest Naval bombardments in history - the first time aircraft carrier planes had bombed a land based target.

Although FDR referred to it as a "Day of Infamy" it was, in fact, a brilliant military move and we were caught with our pants down. The result? Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

If last names do not matter (to wit: they cannot be connected with people holding the same last name) then why not rename Jordan after Barbara Jordan and leave Terman alone. The cost? Almost nothing.

10 people like this
Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2018 at 11:40 am

Jon Parsons is a registered user.

After reading James Thurber's post I think we should name at least one of the schools after Isorou Yamamoto. He was ahead of this time - a dreamer who passed through the United States and then struck a daring blow against the white male bastion he found here. I understand that he has vigorously denied any involvement in the Rape of Nanking, so he does not have that baggage. Of course, his righteous zeal may have lead to the occasional overreaction, perhaps like Antifa or BLM these days, but embracing and including scofflaws is what the United States is all about these days. Let's embrace Isorou. Let's show how truly understanding and forgiving we have become.

46 people like this
Posted by Downtown Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm

OMG! Here we go again. We, the majority of the Palo Alto community, already told you: we do not want these schools be renamed, period! Stop pushing ANY names, regardless of these people's accomplishments. We do not want our resources be spent on your current PC agenda!

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2018 at 6:03 pm

what’s in a name?
A lot.
Alternate idea.
Let’s name after our galaxy


It’s more good than other choices.


4 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 26, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Hewlett Middle School will be a good choice.

Hewlett offered Steve Jobs his very first job. (summer intern with HP, after Jobs called him for an electronic part) It will be symbolical to have Hewlett's name right next to Jobs' resting place. Also, if we, for whatever reason, cannot name the school Terman, Hewlett will be the only replacement of the same importance for the Silicon Valley.

20 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2018 at 6:47 pm

If we could actually vote, I would vote to keep the names as they are. I suspect that most residents of Palo Alto would agree.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2018 at 8:14 pm

It seems that this is getting nasty.

People outside Jordan, protesting and handing out propaganda. Sounds like this is not going to end quietly.

4 people like this
Posted by Jordan 1970
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2018 at 8:33 pm

African American Frank Greene is eligible to have a school named after him, yet white Frederick Terman is ineligible due to guilt by association.

As an educator, Fred Terman no doubt had more influence over more lives.


12 people like this
Posted by Alex P
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2018 at 12:07 am

The fact that you had to put a PRONUNCIATION KEY next to the name Zschokke, and yet it made the final list, should tell you everything you need to know about this process.

What a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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