Proposal to change Miami Beach High name to honor late principal proves polarizing

04/24/2014 9:12 AM

04/24/2014 2:00 PM

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales all have at least one thing in common: They graduated from Miami Beach Senior High.

But should it be said that they are alumni of Solomon Lichter/Miami Beach Senior High?

Yes, say some graduates and supporters who in recent weeks lobbied the School Board to consider honoring the memory of the beloved former principal by making his name synonymous with the school. On Tuesday, the district will hold a 6:30 p.m. meeting in the auditorium of Beach High to talk about changing the name of the building.

And things could get a little uncomfortable.

Because just as Lichter was cherished by his former students and the larger community, so too is the identity of Miami Beach Senior High, a bedrock of the tight-knit city since opening more than 75 years ago. And while no one disputes Lichter’s contribution to the school and community, there are those who say Beach High is Beach High, and the name shouldn’t change even for the man affectionately remembered as “Dr. Dynamite.”

“No disrespect to Dr. Lichter, but the idea of renaming Miami Beach High is asinine,” local film producer Alfred Spellman posted on Twitter Wednesday night. “I’m not even alumni but it bothers me. The name Miami Beach High is iconic.”

The idea to change the school’s name surfaced in the days after Lichter’s Feb. 9 death at age 92 following a teaching and administrative career that spanned more than three decades, much of it spent in Miami Beach. During his stint as principal of Beach High from 1966 to 1977, he ushered the school through desegregation. Lichter also started a feeding program for the homeless.

Rebel actor Mickey Rourke and movie producer Mitch Glazer were among those to attend the school under his tutelage.

“He left his legacy on the school,” Morales, the city manager, said when Lichter died.

Hoping to make that literally the case, someone — schools officials will only say it was an alumnus — quickly proposed renaming Beach High in Lichter’s honor. District officials say they’ve received many suggestions since, including at least one that would rename the school after someone other than Lichter.

By March, author and former teacher S.N. Bronstein was urging supporters on his blog to email district administrative director Cynthia Gracia in favor of a “partial” name change. Bronstein also urged opponents to email Gracia, saying their opinions mattered too.

And they took him up on it.

“Dr. Lichter's legacy is what he did not only for his ‘Beach Kids’... but more importantly what he did as a private citizen for the disenfranchised residing in our city,” Bronstein wrote this month, encouraged by support for Lichter. But he added: “It is imperative that we turn out in large numbers to counter the voices of those who due to their personal agendas, wish to see this initiative defeated by employing innuendo and fostering divisiveness.”

Vivian Santiesteban-Pardo, the region superintendent whose staff will oversee Tuesday’s hearing, acknowledged that the idea of changing the school’s name hasn’t been wholeheartedly embraced.

“There’s been a lot of passion expressed about keeping the name of the school as Miami Beach High,” she said.

An online petition has circulated claiming to have more than 700 signatures against changing the school’s name. During its first 20 years the school was actually known by the name Ida M. Fisher High, according to a biography on the high school’s website.

Others have taken sides on social media.

Alumnus Khalil Quinan said on Facebook he was against a name change, but urged opponents to “tread lightly.”

“Dr. Solomon did a number of positive things for the Beach High community and many people are passionate about him and honoring him,” Quinan said.

Tuesday’s meeting at the school on 2231 Prairie Ave. could go a long way toward deciding what happens. During the gathering — which Gracia said is required by district policy when a member of a school community proposes a name change — district representatives will take account of all proposals to rename the school. Names already proposed will be posted on a board.

“It doesn’t mean [the name change] is going to happen,” Santiesteban-Pardo said.

She said a district committee on renaming facilities will ultimately make a recommendation to the school board, which would have final say on any proposal. District officials handling the meeting, she said, have no opinion on what should happen.

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