St. Francis School | Name Exploration Task Force | Report to the Board of Trustees

To the St. Francis School Community:

Throughout the history of St. Francis School, the name has served both as a tribute to our origins and a source of confusion for a school without a religious affiliation.

In June 2021, the St. Francis School Board of Trustees voted unanimously to explore the possibility of a name change. The action was spurred by the strong recommendation of Independent School Management, a nationally-recognized consulting firm hired to conduct a thorough analysis of the School’s enrollment management practices and its marketing efforts.

The Board formed a diverse, 30-member Task Force — which included representatives from current students, current faculty, alumni from both Campuses, current parents, alumni parents, Trustees, and former Trustees — to gather information, listen to all our constituencies, and make a thoughtful, reasoned recommendation on whether to change the school’s name.

We conducted an eight-month study that included:

  • An online survey of more than 1,400 people (sent to just over 3,000 — and shared on social media — for an approximately 47% response rate);
  • 13 listening sessions conducted online and in person;
  • Interviews with college admissions officers, employee search firms, and schools and other non-profits that have considered or implemented a name change, and;
  • Estimating costs associated with a name change.

Based on the extensive input and information and with thoughtful discussion, the Name Exploration Task Force unanimously recommended that the Board of Trustees proceed with changing the name of St. Francis School to better reflect its Mission, avoid confusion, and help attract more students to benefit from our exceptional educational experience. Subsequently, at the full meeting of the Board of Trustees on January 26, 2022, the Board unanimously voted to approve the Task Force’s recommendation to change the name of the School. The Board also designated the Head of School and the Executive Committee to oversee the process of identifying a new name for the School. 

Among the Task Force’s key findings and observations:

  1. A clear and broad majority of St. Francis School constituents voiced support for a name change. By a 2-1 margin, survey participants believe it’s time to change the School’s name.  
    1. Each individual constituent group’s results were in favor of the name change, with current parents and current faculty/staff being the strongest groups in favor (7:1 margin and almost 100% of current faculty and staff); 
    2. Current students’ and alumni parents’ results mirrored the overall survey results (2:1 in favor).
    3. Overall, alumni are also in favor of the name change, although not as strongly as the overall group; more High School alums are in favor than opposed; alums of the Goshen Campus are the only constituent group that is more opposed than in favor of the name change.
  2. Listening Sessions revealed similar levels of support from most constituent groups except alumni, but responses from alums ran the full gamut.
  3. Constituents overwhelmingly believe the current name does not reflect the School’s Mission, Vision, and educational philosophy. Moreover, constituents believe the religious name for a secular school is confusing.  A particularly apt summary of this point was shared by one Task Force member: “We should be known for who we are. The current name describes who we are not.”
  4. Many constituents are optimistic that a clearer name will help the School attract a larger, more diverse pool of student, faculty, and staff applicants. The Board should view this as an opportunity to highlight our Progressive education and student-centered teaching, tenets that clearly distinguish our school from others in the region.  Another Task Force member summarized this by saying: “We should do anything we can to make it easier for (parents and students) to find our school. More people need to find us. That’s all that matters.”
  5. Many constituents, particularly alumni of the Goshen and Downtown campuses, have deep emotional attachment to the name “St. Francis”. If the School is renamed, they believe the historic name should be preserved in some appropriate way and the Board must reach out to engage those who may feel alienated by the change.
  6. Several Task Force members who initially opposed changing the name shifted their views after hearing from constituents and reviewing the information gathered during the study. “I was reticent at first; it just didn’t feel right,” said a longtime faculty member and Task Force member. “But after seeing, hearing, and reading all the information, I believe it’s time for a change. It’s the Mission and heart of the school that matter most, not the name.”
  7. Choosing the right new name is the most critical aspect of the next phase of the process. The two goals we have in selecting a new name are: 1) a name that is welcomed by and resonates with our current constituents;  2) a name that appeals to the target audience of potential families.
  8. It’s important to invest the time, care, and money needed to determine a new name and then promote it, particularly to Mission-appropriate candidates who are unaware of the School’s educational value. “The rollout is key,” said one Task Force member. “It’s not a time to focus on saving money. It should be an investment for the long term.”
  9. The Board should take advantage of the momentum generated by months of discussion. “The evidence is compelling,” said one Task Force member. “We have a real opportunity.” Another paraphrased the words of Maya Angelou to underscore why the Board should act now: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Our goal should be to create momentum around this name change to build excitement about the School and its future. 

This is an historic moment for this truly wonderful School, and we look forward with great anticipation and excitement to the process of choosing a name that reflects our Mission and helps ensure that generations of future Wyverns will more easily find us and continue to live the Mission of the School.  


Chad Carlton, Chair

Name Exploration Task Force, St. Francis School 

James Melhuish, Chair

Board of Trustees, St. Francis School

Alexandra Thurstone

Head of School, St. Francis School

Details of the Process and Findings

Steps taken in Name Exploration Process

  • Independent School Management (ISM) reported to the Board and recommended that the School consider a name change (June 2021)
  • St. Francis School Board of Trustees voted to formally explore whether a name change is in the best interest of the School and agreed to form a Task Force to do this work (June 2021)
  • Secured Task Force Leadership – Chad Carlton, chair of SFS Board’s Marketing and Relationship Building Committee – and peopled the task force:  30 members from all key constituency groups (June – August 2021)
  • Task force then determined/agreed to overall process and timeline (August 2021)
  • Conducted numerous small group and individual discussions with anyone interested in talking further about this subject (August 2021 – Ongoing) 
  • A survey was created and then sent out to over 3,000 recipients and posted on social media; over 1,400 people engaged with the survey; over 950 people completed it (September/October 2021)
  • An analysis of the survey results was conducted, along with a summary of the feedback from the Listening Sessions, and published on our website and sent to the same 3,000+ (October/November 2021)
  • Conducted 13 Listening Sessions with constituent groups (October -December 2021)
  • Held “Wyverns in New York” event and discussed name exploration with alums who attended the gathering and in individual meetings there in December (December 2021)
  • Split the Task Force into sub-committees to gather data and research in the following areas: college admissions officers, employee search firms, and schools that have considered/changed name; cost estimates for a potential name change; identify potential name change and branding consultants/firms as we will be re-branding regardless of whether we change our name (October 2021 – December 2021)
  • Created summaries of each sub-committee’s work (November/December 2021)
  • Wrote a Final Report that includes the findings from each area (December 2021 – January 2022)

          Highlights of St. Francis School Name Exploration Survey:

          • The survey was sent to just under 3,300 people and was posted on social media
          • 1,417 people engaged by at least listing their constituent group (47% response); 948 answered all the name change questions (32% response); 893 answered all the tagline questions (30% response); 870 completed the full survey (29% response)
          • % (number) of survey responses by constituent group*:
          • *%s do not add to 100, as people can belong to more than one group
          • Respondents have an overwhelmingly positive impression of the school (95% agree or strongly agree)
          • On the questions regarding the name:
            • Nearly 80% of respondents will continue to support the school regardless of the name
            • By a 2-1 majority, respondents agree that the name of the school is confusing or doesn’t match because it is not a religious school (59% to 28%)
            • By a 2-1 majority, respondents agree that it is in the School’s best interest to change the name (54% to 23%). 21% neither agree nor disagree/have no opinion
            • 79% agree that they will feel connected to the School no matter the name; 5% (52 people) disagree and 3% (26 people) strongly disagree
          • 74% of respondents believe the school’s tagline, “The School of Thought,” matches the Mission and effectively communicates our message and identity
          • Only 30% of respondents believe the School’s logo, an exclamation point in quotes, matches the Mission and effectively communicates our message and identity 

          Highlights of Results by Constituent Groups, including Current Students, Alums, Current Parents, and Alumni Parents

          • Current students – Majority of respondents favor a name change (56% strongly agree or agree, 13% neutral, 31% disagree or strongly disagree)
          • Current faculty and staff – Overwhelming majority of respondents favor a name change (83% strongly agree or agree, 10% neither agree nor disagree, 5% have no opinion, and 2% disagree) 
          • High school alums – Plurality of respondents slightly favor a name change, with more opposition than in the overall group (43% strongly agree or agree, 22% neutral, 33% disagree or strongly disagree)
          • Goshen alums – Plurality of respondents slightly oppose a name change, the only constituent group with more opposition than support (36% strongly agree or agree, 18% neutral, 41% disagree or strongly disagree)
          • Current parents – Overwhelming majority of respondents favor of a name change (69% strongly agree or agree, 17% neutral, 11% disagree or strongly disagree)
          • Alumni parents – Majority of respondents favor a name change (53% strongly agree or agree, 25% neutral, 21% disagree or strongly disagree)

          Highlights of Listening Session Feedback:

          Over the course of a number of weeks (October 12 -December 7), 13 listening sessions were held for the various constituent groups connected to the St. Francis community in order to provide an open forum for discussion on the prospect of a name change for the School. Below is a summary of the feedback received from the various constituent groups. These groups included alumni, students, faculty/staff, current parents, and alumni parents.

          Overall Summary

          All constituents seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be heard and be invited into this process.  There also was a consistent desire for the Task Force to be transparent about the process of deciding on the name change.  While some are definitely not in favor of a name change, overall there is an openness to changing the name.  The alumni are the most hesitant about changing the name.  All groups acknowledged that there is a level of confusion about our name, though it often elicits conversation; not all of this is bad, as pride, emotion, and brand equity are developed through these conversations.  There was agreement that the name does not communicate our Mission/philosophy and indeed that it communicates something very different from our Mission/philosophy.  There was significant concern, however, regarding what we might change the name to if we change it.  People’s support for a name change will be dependent on what new name is chosen if we go forward.

          Faculty and Staff

          Listening sessions were held for Preschool, Lower and Middle School, and High School faculty. Overall, faculty and staff were positive about the prospect of changing the name of the School as long as the School remains true to its Mission and culture. Importantly, no faculty or staff members strongly disagreed with the idea of a name change. Some did suggest we consider keeping part of the current name, such as including “Francis” in some way.  Several faculty were particularly eager for the opportunity to promote our identity as Progressive educators. Additionally, several thought a name change may further strengthen the connection between the Downtown and Goshen campuses. The only concerns expressed were related to cost and making sure that a new name is a good fit. Faculty and staff ultimately want what is best for long-term viability and success of the School.  


          Three alumni listening sessions were held. The majority of alumni, even those who expressed a strong connection to and a great sense of nostalgia for the St. Francis name, understood and agreed that the name is confusing and poses challenges with marketing and building brand awareness of the School.

          Overall, alums were split between those who felt that a name change was absolutely necessary and wondered what took us so long to come to this decision, and those who felt strongly that we definitely should not change the name.  There did seem to be some consistency of more recent alums being more open to the change and alums from earlier decades being less open, although of course there were exceptions on both sides.

          Common questions raised by alumni were “What is the urgency?” and “Why now?”. Comments centered on the fact that this has always been a challenge, but we’ve been able to overcome it, so why do we need to make this dramatic move now? 

          A small group raised concerns about the current climate of “cancel culture” and how a decision to change the name of the School may potentially be perceived in the community as an attempt on the part of the School to right a wrong, regardless of whether or not that is actually the case. 

          Some alums expressed great affinity for St. Francis, the person, and felt that his philosophy and values very accurately represent the Mission of the School even if the name is confusing. Those who strongly disagree with changing the name of the School asked that their concerns not be dismissed as simply being change-averse. Several participants also felt concerns about the potential loss of brand equity and questioned why other marketing strategies could not be employed to achieve greater name recognition and enrollment. 

          There was also a consistent expression of the desire for some nod to the School’s history, and not a wholesale name change, if a name change happens.  While the majority were open to the idea of a name change, alums are extremely concerned about what the name might be if we change it, and their point was that we better get it right.


          Listening sessions were held for students on both the Goshen and Downtown campuses, and meetings were held with the Student Council on each campus. Many High School students feel generally sad about the prospect of changing the name of the School, and are concerned about further confusion in the near term if the name were to change. They are not excited about the idea of graduating from “a different school” than the one they now attend — a change the year before Graduation is especially tough.  They worry they may not feel connected to the School if it has a different name. However, there were also a number of students who felt that the name is very confusing and therefore expressed that what mattered most is the Mission of the school and that we would be able to attract more like-minded students and be overall more successful if we were to change the name and clear up the confusion about what kind of school we are.  All students expressed love and great affinity for the Mission of the School. Their greatest desire was for the School itself not to change and for it to thrive in the future.  Even those who were sad about the prospect felt they could accept a change if it is truly in the School’s best interest. 

          Many of the Middle School students on the Goshen Campus expressed the frustration they feel about having to explain to friends and peers outside of St. Francis that the School is not Catholic. Some students suggested that people may still continue to refer to the School as St. Francis even after the name has been changed, which therefore would create even more confusion. Concern about the cost and workload involved with changing the name were also mentioned by many Middle Schoolers. As with their High School peers, a number of students expressed that while changing the name might be hard, if it is  what is best for the School, they can accept it.

          Current Parent/Alumni Parent/Others

          Two listening sessions were held for current parents/alumni parents/others. The majority of current and alumni parents feel positively about the prospect of a name change, and agree that the current name is confusing and creates a barrier to inquiries. Many cited their own experiences with assuming St. Francis was a religious school before learning about it from a person with direct experience, or having to correct others who are misinformed about what kind of school St. Francis is because of the impression the name gives. Overall, this group saw the pragmatic benefits of changing the name and were generally supportive. However, many did express concerns about potential loss of brand equity that has been built. They also identified that there are likely other changes/new approaches that need to be explored in order to reach the ultimate enrollment/sustainability goals and that the local educational landscape is more competitive than ever. Several folks noted that there is hopefully an approach that allows for seamless continuity (whether that is keeping “Francis” or “SFS” or the like).

          Task Force Sub-Committee Summaries:

          College Admissions Officer Interviews Main Takeaways: 

          1. Admissions Officers that we contacted all suggested that there would be no negative effects or challenges related to a potential name change for St. Francis School. (Although several recommended securing the same College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) code.)
          2. Admissions Officers who were familiar with St. Francis School had very positive associations with the School, commensurate with their personal level of familiarity.
          3. Admissions Officers who were unfamiliar with St. Francis School presumed it was a religious school, most likely Catholic.
          4. One Admissions Officer who was very familiar with St. Francis School offered that the “St.” part of the name was likely “doing some harm” to both the School’s enrollment and brand, including as relates to college admissions. The officer (a former St. Francis School employee now at Centre College) said that Admissions Officers – whether subconsciously or not – “viewed differently” Independent from parochial schools when considering applications. 

          Employee Search Firms Feedback Summary:

          • The School works with two national search firms, so we interviewed representatives from each
          • Interviews were conducted with Lorri Freitas, Director of Teacher Placement for Southern Teachers Agency and Beth McCardle, Carney Sandoe Placement Representative (16 years)
          • Lorri was not personally familiar with SFS; Beth is very familiar; both of them felt a name change would be overwhelmingly positive for the School
          • The starter question for each was: “Does a school name change have a negative impact on placing prospective faculty and staff if the school name is not recognizable from the prior, which has had a particular reputation in the marketplace?”
          • Summary/quotes from Lorri:
            • They hand-place all applicants with schools, but in cases where applicants are just looking at listings on their own, and where that could be just a quick two-minute view, she believed that “prospects will pass on just the name alone and they could be the very people you may want to attract.”
            • “This is an opportunity to choose a name that “reflects what you’ve always been.”
            • “Alumni tend to get emotional over name changes.”  Lorri mentioned that with alumni specifically, they just need to look past the emotion and understand the long-term benefits for the School of a name change.  “Change is always hard.”
            • “From my point of view, a name change will not negatively impact you at all.”
          • Summary/Quotes from Beth McCardle
            • Beth gave multiple examples of schools changing names during her tenure and none of them have had ill effects. 
            • “What is important is that your school’s history – including the name change – is easy to access on your website, so prospective candidates get the whole story and can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to pursue you and your school’s mission.”
            • She said many schools have done this.  Make sure it’s clear we are not trying to erase who we were.  C-S can help us tell the story.  

          Summary of Research on Other Schools That Have Considered and/or Changed Their Name:

          • In all cases, the name was changed to better reflect who the school really is
          • Schools with success changing names and driving enrollment did so by driving with mission, vision, and energy & excitement about the school’s future
          • All schools believe that in the end, it was the right thing to do.  It is less clear that there were specific, tangible, measurable benefits. It’s more about the name change within the larger context of momentum: how well the leadership is driving forward the mission and vision of the School
          • Some schools feel they did a good, careful job of communicating while others think they could have done better; regardless, there were unhappy people in every situation.  That is inevitable.
            • One school (Alcuin) took a risk and used the most negative naysayer about the prospective change to chair a committee related to the name change; the Head of School asked this individual (an attorney) to wear his “attorney hat” to drive the process, and it was an incredible success. The individual was able to check his bias and think critically about the issue at hand.
          • Getting media and constituents to use the new name is an ongoing challenge. 
          • A name change/rebranding is a great opportunity to grab some attention.  
          • Take the time needed to get it right.  And even then, it’s going to take more time for all the aspects of the name change to happen.  
          • Be aware of as many unintended consequences as possible (e.g., not choosing a name that starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet, for example).
          • Conclusion:  We should change the name if we feel that the dissonance between the name and who we really are is something we no longer wish to live with.  We should not change the name assuming that it will lead to a specific result, without also focusing on the idea that “if you’re going to be the thing, you’ve got to be the thing!” 

          Summary of Research on Nonprofits That Considered and/or Changed Their Name:

          There are many reasons for nonprofit organizations to change their name, whether out of opportunity and the desire to express the mission better and attract new donors, or out of necessity stemming from external factors.

          Among these factors, these are the most prominent:

          1. Outdated terms are used:  Since society’s sensibilities and language change over time, words formerly used may now be politically incorrect, have negative connotations, or simply no longer be effective – e.g. United Negro College Fund is now UNCF, what was the Association of Retarded Citizens is now The Arc.
          2. The name no longer works: In some case the organization’s name no longer reflects what the organization does or is inaccurate in some way, or conveys a misperception about the organization. Real Estate Advisory and Development Services (READS) is a nonprofit organization serving other nonprofits, but its name made it seem like a business. To address this, they took the unusual tactic of using their tagline, Build with Purpose, as their organizational name, and adopted a new tagline, “Real Estate for Social Change
          3. No one refers to the actual name: Organizations such as the YMCA (which used to stand for Young Men’s Christian Association), and the JCC (Jewish Community Center), are referred to informally by their members as “the Y,” and “the J,” respectively. Recently, the YMCA (which is a distinct organization from the YWCA, by the way) is taking advantage of that and referring to itself as “the Y,” introducing a new logo, which has the small letters YMCA on the side of a large Y.
          4. Programs are more prominent than the organization: For some organizations, their signature programs are more well-known than the parent organization. This might represent a lost opportunity for funding or increasing participation in the organization’s other programs. That was the case for the Council on the Environment of New York, the group behind New York’s noted Greenmarkets. This prompted them to change their name to GrowNYC. When the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s yellow wristband reading Livestrong gained massive recognition, the organization’s name was changed to the Livestrong Foundation.
          5. They remove religious connotations: As organizations once founded on religious principles attempt to appeal to wider audiences for funding, some are changing their names to remove or minimize the religious aspects. Another reason that Christian Children’s Fund had in changing its name to ChildFund International was to make it possible for them to work in Muslim countries.
          6. Signal change: Organizations that want to signal a new direction for the organization, choose to change their name. When the Solomon Schechter Day School Association wanted to proactively signal a new brand positioning for the Jewish Conservative Day School movement, they changed their name to Schechter Day School Network and introduced the tagline: Engage the world.
          7. To hide from malfeasance or legal action:  After advocacy organization ACORN was embroiled in a scandal, the negative ramifications were rampant. Many local chapters changed their names to distance themselves. 

          Cost Considerations:

          • Having gone through a name change in 2012, we know that it is not an inexpensive endeavor.  There are many relatively minor costs, including: 
            • Physical school signage: up to $60,000 (1x cost)
            • Paper (letterhead, business cards, printed materials, etc.):  $10,000
            • Business/legal fees: $1,000
            • Website redesign: $10,000
            • Athletics (uniforms, equipment, etc.): $40,000 (about 3x annual cost)
            • Swag: $20,000
            • Advertising Boost: $30,000 (year 1)
            • Miscellaneous: $25,000
            • TOTAL: $196,000
          • Additional consideration: we will get a big PR bump and there will be opportunities for free press about this news; it gives us the opportunity to tell our story and broadcast it
          • What is much more variable is the consulting and advertising fees. This will likely cost approximately $90,000 – $120,000.