5 school name finalists unveiled

There are officially five options to name the new fifth- and sixth-grade middle school.

The eight-member School Naming Committee presented its recommendations to the Austin Public Schools Board during its public meeting Monday after considering 84 submissions from the public last month. The new school could be named Evergreen, Maria Vaughn, George A. Hormel (or George and Lillian Hormel), Ralph T. Holman, or I.J. Holton.

“We went through every single name,” said John Alberts, educational services director and School Naming Committee member.

The committee reviewed names suggested by the community members earlier this summer, ultimately deciding to recommend the final five. Evergreen comes from Evergreen Farm, which was owned by Allen V. and Helen Ellis, the namesake of Ellis Middle School. At 15 years old, Maria Vaughn (Hepzibeth Maria Vaughn Wilder was her full name) was the teacher at the first school to open in Mower County in 1855.

George and Lillian Hormel founded Geo. A. Hormel & Co., which eventually became Hormel Foods Corp., the multi-billion dollar international company largely responsible for Austin’s growth over the past 100 years. Dr. Ralph Holman is best known for naming the Omega-3 fatty acid during his time at The Hormel Institute. I.J. Holton was President of Hormel Foods from 1969 to 1979 and CEO from 1969 to 1981, and was well-known for his effort to keep the flagship Hormel plant in Austin in 1978.

“I’m really happy with the names,” said Laura Helle, executive director of the Hormel Historic Home and School Naming Committee member. Helle said the board process was well-thought out, and the names selected covered much of the requirements for a school name.

“We really spent a lot of time researching the history behind the names,” said Cheryl Dunlap, another committee member and retired teacher.

District administrators say the names fit the criteria for a good submission, in that each name could endure for years based on its connection to Austin history and culture. Superintendent David Krenz commended the process and the community for the submissions.

“It’s a public facility and it’s a school that’s going to be here for a long time, so you always want to provide opportunities for public input,” he said.

Ultimately, it’s up to the school board to determine which name, if any, to accept for the new school. It is also unclear whether the new school will be called a middle school, an intermediate school, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), school, or some other designation. The board will make a preliminary decision during its special session on Aug. 27, and will finalize its decision at the December meeting.

New school works

Plans for the intermediate school are proceeding as planned, according to district officials. Finance and Operations Director Mark Stotts said construction is progressing on schedule at the new school while staff were meeting with outside organizations to prepare a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum for fifth- and sixth-graders. Austin officials will meet with University of Minnesota experts to determine what the school needs, and district staff are working with representatives from the Izaac Walton League, Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin, Hormel Foods, The Hormel Institute, Mower County Soil and Water Conservation and more groups as an advisory board for instruction planning.

As Alberts told the board, a STEM school doesn’t differ much from a regular school. With a STEM or STEAM focus, classes are taught with more realistic examples.

“It means that you’re looking for opportunities for real-life integration of different learnings,” Alberts said.

Board members also accepted a bid for kitchen equipment construction at the new school. The board approved a bid from Strategic Equipment from St. Cloud for $448,325, which Stotts said was within the district’s projected budget.

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