Kindergarten Festival

Parents and children gather at International Elementary School, which will be renamed for Jenny Oropeza.

For some Long Beach children, the new school year also will mean a newly re-named school.

The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to rename three schools, effective Aug. 1.

International Elementary School, 700 Locust Ave., will be renamed Jenny Oropeza Elementary School. Oropeza served on the LBUSD board of education from 1988-1994 — the first Latina to be elected to the board. She continued as a political trailblazer when, in 1994, she became the first Latina to be elected to the City Council. After two council terms, Oropeza went on to a career in the California State Assembly (2000-2006).

Jenny Oropeza
Jenny Oropeza

In 2006, she moved on to the California State Senate, where she introduced legislation that banned smoking in cars while minors are present and regulated massage therapy businesses.

Oropeza successfully battled liver cancer in 2004 and 2005, but she died in 2010 from complications of a blood clot in her stomach. She was 53.

“We were looking to name a school after Jenny Oropeza,” board member John McGinnis, whose district represents downtown, said. “We had no schools named after Latinos.”

He added that International Elementary was a particularly fitting school to rename for her — the school was built on the site of the original LBUSD administration building.

This is not the first posthumous honor bestowed upon the pioneering Democrat; Oropeza also had a scholarship named in her honor at her alma mater, California State University, Long Beach.

Robert E. Lee Elementary School, 1620 Temple Ave., will change its name to Olivia Herrera Elementary School.

Last year, Press-Telegram columnist Tim Grobaty raised concerns about the school’s name, sparking a debate throughout the city — and beyond — about whether Long Beach ought to have a school named for the Confederate Army leader.

The school’s new namesake, the late Olivia Nieto Herrera, founded Centro Shalom, which provides assistance to underserved and impoverished neighborhoods in Long Beach. The interfaith social service agency has operated since 1977.

“She taught at Long Beach Day Nursery and cofounded the first Head Start bilingual program (in the city),” McGinnis said of Herrera.

Herrera also worked as an advocate to farmworkers and one of Cesar Chavez’s lieutenants, McGinnis said.

Both renamed elementary schools serve a largely minority populace — more than 67% of students at Lee Elementary, and nearly 80% of students at International, are Hispanic or Latino.

Mary Butler Middle School will be renamed Mary Butler Early College.

“It’s kind of a magnet school, addressing preparedness for college,” board member Jon Meyer said. His district includes Butler.

Butler has been in transition. First, it served as a middle school — then it was used as a temporary school site for Roosevelt Elementary while that school was being rebuilt. In 2019, Mary Butler Early College will reopen as a high school where 11th and 12th graders can take part of their course load at nearby Long Beach City College. The school will open with about 150 students, Meyer said, expanding, eventually, to serve 700 students.

The board also voted last night to rename some buildings and gardens.

The garden at Signal Hill Elementary School will be named for longtime teacher Alida Steinhauser. Steinhauser, who is married to LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, worked in the district for 34 years — including 21 years as a Signal Hill Elementary School teacher. During her time at Signal Hill, Steinhauser who also served on the PTA, helped plan a school vegetable garden, native plant garden, and butterfly garden. The garden’s official name will be the Alida Steinhauser Path Towards Academic Excellence.

Hughes Middle School will rename its gymnasium the John Tokeshi Gym. Tokeshi taught for 21 years at Hughes before retiring in June. While he was at Hughes, he coached boys’ football and girls’ basketball. The school won All-City Championships for 17 of the 20 years he served as coach.

The football stadium at Millikan will be named for late football coach Richard DeHaven. DeHaven, who died last fall, led Millikan to two CIF championships in football as well as a Moore League title. The stadium, currently named Millikan Stadium, will become Dick DeHaven Stadium.

All naming resolutions were passed unanimously.

Jennifer Rice Epstein can be reached at jriceepstein@gazettes.com.

Jennifer Rice Epstein writes about business, environmental issues and K-12 education. Her essays and reporting also have appeared in The Morning News, Vice and LA Weekly, among others. She lives with her family in Bixby Knolls and tweets about Long Beach.

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