Name change pondered for Essex Tech
Nov. 14--MIDDLETON -- After putting off the issue for a couple of years, Essex Technical High School is finally about to tackle the existential question of what the school should really be named.
A School Committee subcommittee formed specifically for that purpose is scheduled to meet Wednesday night to tackle the dilemma, which has drawn the attention of state legislators.
The issue revolves around whether the word "agricultural" should be included in the school's name. State lawmakers thought they had answered that question when they named it Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School in the legislation that created the school.
The name took into consideration the school's origins as a merger between North Shore Technical High School, the Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute, and the vocational programs at Peabody High School.
But some people, including former Gov. Deval Patrick, said the name was a mouthful. When Patrick visited the future site of the school in 2011, he turned to local officials and, smiling, said: "You are going to find a new name for this."
The regional school board voted in 2012 to shorten the name to Essex Technical High School. The school opened in 2014 on the grounds of the former Essex Aggie and has been operating under that name ever since. But the Essex Agricultural Society, which runs the Topsfield Fair, has been advocating for the word "agricultural" to be included in the school's name.
The school board now includes three members of the Agricultural Society who occupy the three seats on the committee set aside for appointment by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.
The society's effort to change the name has the backing of state Reps. Ted Speliotis of Danvers and Brad Hill of Ipswich.
"My position is very strong that the world 'agricultural' should be in it," Speliotis said. "There are 250 acres of land there that were used for agricultural purposes and it's been there since the mid-1800s. To wipe that tradition and heritage away in its name is just wrong."
Hill said local farmers rely on the school for future employees and are concerned that the school's agricultural programs will be overlooked or diminished over the years without the name recognition.
The school offers programs such as equine sciences, veterinary technology, landscaping and turf management. Its rolling campus features barns and greenhouses, and the school has a Future Farmers of America Chapter.
School Committee Chairwoman Melissa Teixeira of Glocuester said she understands the desire for the school's name to reflect its agricultural heritage. But the committee must consider several ramifications, including the costs of changing the name on signs, stationery and uniforms, she said.
Teixeira is also concerned about what students would think of a name change after becoming accustomed to Essex Tech.
"The intentions are good on all sides, but this has to be a very thoughtful process because it's not just a name change," she said. "It's an identity."
Hill said local legislators believe the ultimate authority for naming the school rests with the state Legislature, not the School Committee. If the School Committee does not change the name to include "agricultural," the Legislature might, he said.
"I'm not trying to threaten them by saying we would do this," Hill said. "But if we're not satisfied, action could take place."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.