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By Brian Park

In naming its new school in Rancho Mission Viejo, the Capistrano Unified School District will choose from a list that includes the 40th U.S. President, a Novel Prize winner, a 19th century stage actress and a trio of names honoring local Native Americans.

The CUSD Board of Trustees on Wednesday culled down its list of more than 40 names to eight finalists that will be considered for the name of the new K-8 school that will be built in the developing Rancho Mission Viejo community, east of San Juan Capistrano.

The names include:

  • Barbara L. Banda, a local woman who helped bring Native American education to CUSD schools. Banda, a member of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, the local tribe that inhabited the region, died last May. Her son, Nathan Banda, a San Juan Capistrano Cultural Heritage Commissioner, suggested the name.
  • Escencia, named after the village the new school will be built in. In Spanish, it means “essence.”
  • Glenn T. Seaborg, a Nobel Prize winning American chemist. Board President John Alpay suggested the name.
  • Helena Modjeska, a prominent 19th century Shakespearean stage actress who lived and died in Orange County. Trustee Jim Reardon suggested the name.
  • Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States.
  • Ortega Oaks.

Trustees also selected two of five names and mascot suggestions by Teresa Romero, chairwoman of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation tribal council.

  • Acjachema Aswuts, named after the tribe and their native word for “golden eagles.”
  • Coronne Chiefs, inspired by the tribe’s first female chief.

Although the tribe is recognized by the state, tribal leaders have struggled to receive federal status for more than 30 years. Trustee Gary Pritchard questioned whether the district would be making a political statement in selected a Juaneño-inspired name. Romero noted that the district already had a school named after a Juaneño tribal chief, Clarence Lobo Elementary School in San Clemente.

District staff will further research the names for the board to make their decision at the next meeting, May 28.

The new school is scheduled to open in 2016 and will serve 1,200-1,600 students. In April, the school board approved the appointment of Greg Merwin as the school’s principal. Merwin is currently principal at George White Elementary School in Laguna Niguel.

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