In 2017, three new public schools financed with funds from the New Jersey Schools Development Authority opened their doors and districts broke ground for two others that will get SDA assistance.
The most important considerations in new school construction include size, safety and aesthetics, as well nowadays meeting energy efficiency and environmental sustainability standards. But another key decision officials must make is what to name the new buildings.
School officials’ choices of names are as varied as the schools themselves, although they usually follow set patterns.
A common convention is to name a school after the community or district in which it is located.
Gloucester City, for instance, called its new $65 million school for grades 4-8 simply Gloucester City Middle School.
Schools are also often named after the street or neighborhood where they are located, or they may be given simply a number, particularly in cities.
Naming a school for an individual is a way to honor or remember someone notable. Jersey City, for instance, named its new 123,000-square-foot school for 850 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grades after Patricia M. Noonan, a longtime educator who also served as the city’s early childhood education director and a principal. Noonan died in 2007.
An examination of the names of New Jersey’s more than 3,200 public schools, as listed by the state Department of Education, shows that officials often chose to dedicate them to famous historical figures. That has led to a plethora of buildings with identical or similar names throughout the state.
These are the people for whom New Jersey public schools most commonly are named, excluding those schools that also carry the moniker of the community or street where they are located.
1. Washington or George Washington
Thirty-two schools: Given he was the first president of the United States, it is not surprising that so many districts named a school after Washington. Most are elementary schools, although there are a few middle schools, too. Almost all are in north Jersey. The schools are in Elizabeth, Wyckoff, Union City, Ridgewood, Wayne, Edgewater, Mahwah, Hillside, Passaic, Union in Union County, Plainfield, Bayonne, Bergenfield, Little Ferry, North Arlington, Westwood Regional, Caldwell-West Caldwell, West Orange, Kearny, Trenton, Edison, Hawthorne, Roselle, Summit, Westfield, Harrison, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Millburn and Nutley.
2. Lincoln or Abraham Lincoln
Thirty-one schools: Probably the second-best known president, due to actions to end slavery and lead the Union through the Civil War, Lincoln is also the second most commemorated American in New Jersey school names. Schools have the name Lincoln in Wyckoff, Passaic, Garfield, Elizabeth, Newark, Garwood, Bayonne, Westfield, Bergenfield, Dumont, Hasbrouck Heights, Ridgefield Park, Caldwell-West Caldwell, Harrison, North Bergen, Edison, Rockaway, Jersey City, Kearny, Dunellen, Hawthorne, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Nutley and Pompton Lakes. New Brunswick and Fairview have two Lincoln schools each. There is also a Lincoln-Hubbard School in Summit and the Lincoln/Roosevelt School in Roxbury.
3. Jefferson or Thomas Jefferson
Twenty-four schools: Author of the Declaration of Independence, the third president of the United States is also the third most popular name for a New Jersey school. Schools bearing Jefferson’s name are in Elizabeth, Ridgefield Park, Washington Township (Gloucester), Lodi, Hawthorne, Fair Lawn, Teaneck, Edison, Rockaway, the Morris School District, Passaic, Wallington, Union, Bergenfield, North Arlington, Caldwell-West Caldwell, South Orange-Maplewood, Union City, Trenton, Roxbury, Plainfield, Summit, Westfield and Lyndhurst.
4. Franklin, Benjamin Franklin or Ben Franklin
Twenty schools: Although never a president, Franklin is a Founding Father, the first postmaster general and a popular historical figure. Schools named Franklin are in Pennsauken, Newark, Edison, Ridgewood, Teaneck, Elizabeth, Lawrence in Mercer County, Bloomfield, Union in Union County, Bergenfield, Kearny, North Bergen, Trenton, South Plainfield, Roxbury, Rahway, Summit, Westfield, Lyndhurst and Saddle Brook.
4. (tie) Roosevelt
Twenty schools: Two Roosevelts were president and it’s not always immediately clearly which of the two a school is honoring. Theodore was the 26th president, known for his progressive policies and for conserving national parks and forests. Franklin was a distant cousin of Theodore’s and the 32nd president, who led the nation through the Great Depression. Edison has a Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary. Weehawken, Passaic and Piscataway each have a Theodore Roosevelt school. Fifteen schools are just named Roosevelt, in Kearny, Ridgefield Park, North Arlington, Pennsauken, New Brunswick, South Plainfield, Hawthorne, Rahway, Westfield, West Orange, Lodi, Lyndhurst, River Edge, Garfield and Manville. There is also the previously listed Lincoln/Roosevelt School in Roxbury.
6. Wilson or Woodrow Wilson
Thirteen schools: It is not surprising that so many schools here would be named to honor one of just two presidents who lived in New Jersey — Wilson was president of Princeton University and then the governor of New Jersey before being elected president in 1912. Schools named for Wilson are in Neptune, Bayonne, New Brunswick, Sayreville, Camden, Edison, Clifton, Garfield, Elizabeth, Caldwell-West Caldwell, Trenton, Westfield and Lodi.
7. Martin Luther King Jr. or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nine schools: After the civil rights leader was slain in 1968, places across the country honored him by renaming streets after him and erecting memorials. In New Jersey, schools were named for him in Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Piscataway, Jersey City, Passaic and Trenton.
7. (tie) Kennedy or John F. Kennedy
Nine schools: Many considered the 35th president to be inspirational. Following his assassination in the middle of his first term, his name was placed on many buildings. Schools named for Kennedy are in Berlin, South Plainfield, North Bergen, Wayne, Bridgewater-Raritan Regional, Newark, Jamesburg, Woodbridge and Roxbury.
9. Eisenhower or Dwight D. Eisenhower
Seven schools: The 34th president, Eisenhower was also the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II. Schools were named to honor him in Berlin, Piscataway, Sayreville, Wyckoff, Freehold, Bridgewater-Raritan Regional and Roxbury.
9. (tie) Columbus or Christopher Columbus
Seven schools: The Italian whose early explorations led to the permanent European colonization of the Americas, Columbus has long been honored, although more recently his legacy has come under criticism. Schools named for Columbus are in Lyndhurst, Lodi, Carteret, Trenton, Clifton, Garfield and Elizabeth.
While no municipality is home to all the top names, some come close. Elizabeth has named schools for seven of the 10: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, King and Columbus. The seven honored by Edison are Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, Franklin Roosevelt, Wilson and King.