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So how do I get a school named after me?

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It isn’t always easy, but a person with enough devotion, hard work, land or money could secure naming rights for a school or building in Denton.

The processes vary depending on which building or school you’re gunning for, but the criteria for selection can be similarly vague across several entities.

A monied community member might have an easier time getting their name in big letters at either the University of North Texas or Texas Woman’s University, and an average Joe might have a better shot at Denton ISD or other area school districts.

Both Denton universities have formal policies that leave plenty of wiggle room, but the process is fairly straightforward.

Major facilities, such as stadiums and prominent buildings, require approval by the campus leader before heading to the respective board of regents for final approval.

Buildings, facilities, classrooms, programs and more can be named to honor a person without an accompanying financial gift, but most sections of each university’s naming policy deal with how to award naming rights to donors both corporate and private.

The University of North Texas is clear that naming rights for prominent buildings could be considered for a donor who gives at least a third of the money needed for construction, renovation or the building’s current value.

David Wolf, UNT’s vice president for university advancement, said most buildings and spaces are named “on an honorific basis,” meaning a donation was not required.

“The names are decided on a case-by-case basis in concert with the [Board of Regents’] policies,” Wolf wrote in an emailed statement via a spokesperson.

Texas Woman’s University is less concrete about prices, stating instead that a “negotiated gift agreement” could be approved by regents.

Kimberly Russell, TWU’s vice president for university advancement, said donors will sometimes approach the university with a potential donation in exchange for naming rights over a particular structure or area, but it’s probably more common for the university to test the waters with prospective donors when a new building will be coming along in the next two to five years.

An example of the former would be the recent naming of TWU’s Houston occupational therapy school after late professor Sophie Lin Rydin.

Rydin’s family donated $2 million to establish an endowment in her name after her death, and TWU officials later decided to mark the donation by naming the facility in her honor.

Building names at UNT and TWU are only as long-lived as the facility to which they’re attached, meaning demolition of a named building doesn’t necessarily mean the replacement building will bear the same name.

In Denton ISD, on the other hand, it’s more common for a replacement building to retain its name. A notable exception would be the yet-to-open Nette Shultz Elementary, which is the replacement campus for Woodrow Wilson Elementary.

Denton ISD has a preference for naming schools after people who had a local impact on education and the community, such as Shultz, who was a county home demonstration agent in Cooke County and an instructor at Texas State College for Women — now known as TWU.

The suggestion to rename the school in her honor was submitted by Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson.

“Although Ms. Shultz initially requested the school not be named in her name, she was a very humble person who did not [want] a big ‘hoopla’ over the donation, nor was she vain enough for the school to be named after herself,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson has a stock response he sometimes pulls out when people ask how they can get a high school named in their honor: “We need the 150 acres, and we can surely consider a name.”

The Denton ISD school board ultimately makes all naming decisions, but those who donate land for a school will get to suggest a name in a more impactful way.

Most of those suggestions, such as E.P. Rayzor, Newton Rayzor and Woodrow Wilson elementaries, are accepted by board members. The two former schools were named after land donations from the Rayzor family.

Similar arrangements were made with companies who donate land for campuses. Paloma Creek, Union Park and the upcoming Sandbrock Ranch elementaries are all named after the housing developments in their respective areas.

Other schools have been named for previous district employees, such as Braswell High, which bears the name of former Superintendent Ray Braswell.

Others are named in honor of those who gave a great deal to their community, such as former teacher and civil rights activist Dorothy Adkins.

Both people were selected for the honor in part because of the values they represent to others.

“That’s what it’s about, right?” Wilson asked via phone Wednesday afternoon. “It’s about telling your story as a district through the people who made a difference in the district.”

Both Braswell and Adkins were honored not because they donated land but because of their contributions to Denton ISD.

Their names were submitted through the district’s formal name suggestion form.

The Denton Record-Chronicle filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act on June 24 seeking “all submitted Denton ISD Faculty/Building Name Proposal Forms.”

Denton ISD responded on July 12 with a link to a webpage that listed some outstanding name suggestions, but not all submissions filed with the district.

The majority of those submissions were filed by family members, students or co-workers of somebody with some local connection.

An example would be Chris Cullen, a longtime Denton ISD swim coach whose name was submitted by George Deines.

Deines wrote he was a Class of 1996 swimmer at Ryan High. He submitted Cullen’s name in February 2021 to be considered for the Denton ISD Natatorium.

Roughly 45% of names submitted to the portal belong or belonged to district employees or former school board members.

Only nine submitted names belonged to people without a local connection:

  • Ann Richards — Texas governor
  • Barbara Morgan — Teacher and astronaut
  • Bernardo de Galvez — Spanish general and namesake of Galveston
  • Christa McAuliffe — Teacher and Challenger astronaut
  • David “Davy” Crockett — Folk hero killed during the siege of the Alamo
  • Sally Ride — Astronaut
  • Colin Powell — American general
  • John Chisum — Cattleman and businessman
  • Lady Bird Johnson — First lady

Suggestions find their way to Denton ISD in clumps when a new prominent campus is announced. For example, nearly half of all names in the district’s online database were submitted in or around 2014 ahead of the opening of the now-named Braswell High and Adkins Elementary schools.

The most prolific submitter of names to Denton ISD was John Michael “Mikey” McDougal, who offered four names in 2006 for what is now known as Nelson Elementary.

Denton ISD board members selected the name to honor Denton attorney and former Mayor L.A. Nelson.

McDougal, who had a parent sign onto all four submissions, thought Nelson Elementary, then known only as Elementary #17, would be better named:

  • Wheeler Elementary for the Wheeler family and Wheeler Ridge area
  • Denton Elementary in honor of town namesake John B. Denton
  • Chisum Elementary in honor of cattleman John Chisum
  • Crockett Elementary in honor of Davy Crockett

The names live on as submissions in the district’s name bank, so it would be hasty to entirely rule out the possibility that a McDougal-submitted name, or any of the other dozens of submitters, won’t have their hopes filled down the line.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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