When President Bush visited the George W. Bush Elementary School last week, he told Principal Sylvia G. Ulmer that he was moved almost to tears by the honor of having a school named after him.
It was Mr. Bush’s first visit to the 3-year-old public school in Stockton, Calif.
The president met students in two classrooms and then about 50 more in the library—the Laura Bush Library, that is—Ms. Ulmer said the day after the Oct. 3 visit.
When he stopped at a large portrait of the first lady on display, surrounded by photos of the White House pets, the president told Ms. Ulmer, “ ‘You’re missing a dog,’ and he said he would send us a photo of his new dog,” she said.
Ms. Ulmer, who had invited Mr. Bush to see his namesake several times before, said she had been visited by members of the presidential advance team a few days before the visit, but they had told her not to expect an appearance by Mr. Bush. She learned it would happen only when helicopters and U.S. Secret Service agents descended on the school about an hour before his arrival.
“I kind of let my guard down,” she said.
Bush Elementary opened in fall 2003, with about 600 students in pre-K to 6th grade. But it has since added a 7th grade and grown to 834 students.
Naming a school after a sitting Republican president was controversial in a community where the majority of voters are Democrats, said Dianne Barth, a spokeswoman for the 38,000-student Stockton City Unified School District. Although elected on a nonpartisan basis, the school board consisted of four self-described Republicans and three Democrats, Ms. Barth said. The school name was approved by a 4-3 vote along party lines in June 2002.
At the time, President Bush was near the height of his popularity, with a 73 percent approval rating, according to the American Presidency Project, at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Today, although Mr. Bush’s approval rating has plummeted to the low 40s, the school’s name is noncontroversial, officials said.
“Yesterday, many of my Democratic teachers who got to see the president were jumping up and down, they were so very proud to have received our president,” said Ms. Ulmer, a Republican. “This was beyond partisan.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2006 edition of Education Week