Whenever 3 schools built, Ceres has the names ready

CERES — Three yet-to-be-built schools have been named after a local couple, the school superintendent and a labor union leader.

The campuses should be built over the next five years and will be called Lucas Elementary, Walt Hanline Elementary and César Chávez Junior High. Trustees chose the names this week from dozens of nominations submitted by community members. The campuses will increase the number of schools in the district to 22.

Grant and Mildred Lucas are longtime Ceres residents. He is a Ceres High School alumus and worked in agriculture; she is a retired elementary school teacher. Hanline will retire in 2010 after nine years as the Ceres Unified School District's superintendent and 34 years in education. Chávez was a civil rights activist who founded the United Farm Workers.

"There is no greater honor than having the community name a school after someone," Hanline said.

The school names have been well-received for the most part, but the decision to name one after Chávez has caused controversy in the community of 40,000. When naming schools after people, some residents argue, the district should have continued the tradition of picking from local notables.

Two-dozen California schools bear Chávez's name, including a high school in Stockton. The Ceres campus will be the first in Stanislaus County.

Board President Teresa Guerrero said Chávez had a significant impact on the community and naming a school after him serves as an inspiration to the district's Latino children.

"He was a very passionate, very peaceful leader who created a lot of rights for people who were not heard from before," she said, noting that nearly two-thirds of Ceres Unified's students are Latino.

Chávez's name graces streets, libraries and parks across the country, and eight states, including California, have established a holiday in his honor. Chávez died in 1993.

'Moved district forward'

Hanline, 58, was caught off guard by his nomination. He hasn't forgotten how divided the district once was over his leadership. But those who nominated him acknowledged his efforts to secure the money to build much-needed schools earlier this decade.

"Walt has moved this district forward. He's created a unification that wasn't (there) for a while and moved the district in a different direction," Guerrero said.

Though humbled by the honor, Hanline said it comes with pressure.

"I've been struggling to find the words. It's a capstone to a career," said the former elementary school teacher. He later added, "If you're dead (when a school is named after you), you can't screw it up."

The Lucases were surprised by their selection, Hanline said. Though in their 80s, the couple are active in the community and strong supporters of education.

"They embody what community involvement and a commitment to your community is all about," Hanline said. "They are the quality of people we want our students to follow."

Other nominations included Phil de la Porte, Wayne Salter, Jerry Panella and Howard Stevenson.

César Chávez Junior High's $30-million price will be funded by a school bond Ceres Unified voters approved in November; it should be ready to open in fall 2012, officials said. The elementaries will be funded from state money and could cost about $15 million each. Completion dates depend on when the state money is available.

Funding for the three schools comes from money designated for construction and cannot be used to defray cuts to general funds, school employees or programs.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.