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What's in a name? How public schools re-name and re-brand

For years, the High School for International Business and Finance has been one of four schools in the George Washington campus, each named the High School for Something and Something. But over the summer, the school changed its name, rebranding itself as College Academy.

New York City public schools can re-name themselves only by jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops that ultimately lead to Chancellor Joel Klein’s final approval.

Once a principal approves or initiates a change, it’s voted on by the parent association, which then passes it on to the school’s superintendent. In cases where a school is part of a community school district, the superintendent makes a recommendation to the community education council, which holds a public meeting and then votes on the change. But for most high schools and other schools that are not zoned for a district, the decision goes straight from the superintendent to Chancellor Klein.

Unlike schools that change buildings or expand, schools that give themselves new names do not need the citywide school board’s approval.

There are a few rules: you can’t name a school after someone who’s still alive, and if your school is already named after someone and you decide to change it, you have to tell their relatives first. Once a school is given a new name, it can’t be changed for ten years, though there are exceptions to this.

Nationally, it’s becoming increasingly rare to name a school after a person.

Two other schools changed their names this summer. Bard High School Early College II, which opened in 2008 and is modeled on the Bard High School in Lower Manhattan, is now Bard High School Early College Queens. And the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists, which opened in 2009, is now the Urban Assembly Bronx Studio for Writers and Artists.

It’s unclear why the High School for International Business and Finance’s principal, Juan Alvarez, chose to change the school’s name to College Academy. Still on summer break, no one at the school returned calls. DOE officials did not respond to a request for information.

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