Seventh- and eighth-graders in the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District will have a big reputation to live up to when they return to school Aug. 26.

Following the closure of Mountain Shadows Middle School on Friday, all of the district's seventh- and eighth-graders will attend what was formerly called Creekside Middle School. It will open the school year as Lawrence E. Jones Middle School.

Known as "Officer Friendly," Jones was a Rohnert Park public safety officer for 27 years -- 18 of which he spent as a now-legendary school resource officer.

Jones died in 2009 of kidney cancer.

"He was a very important, major figure in the community for Rohnert Park," said district superintendent Barbara Vrankovich.

During his career, Jones was named policeman of the year, given the outstanding service award for the state Juvenile Officers Association, received the J. Edgar Hoover gold medal award and was named Rohnert Park citizen of the year.

"His smile is one of those things that lights up a room," Jones's daughter, Tracy Jones Jackson of Sacramento said. "He had a way of being able to calm the chaos. It's one of those talents -- it's a God-given talent."

Julie Cattaneo, an alumna of Rohnert Park schools who now owns a restaurant in Santa Rosa where a photo of Officer Friendly hangs above the bar, supports the change.

"I grew up with him. He was such a great guy and helped out so many people," she said.

But the district's decision to change the name from Creekside -- and spend money to do so -- while also grappling with a massive budget deficit has not been without controversy.

Trustee Ed Gilardi cast the sole no vote on the change, saying the financially strapped district could not afford a change that Gilardi said will affect just two years of students.

"It had nothing to do with Officer Jones. I have a great deal of respect for him and his work," he said.

District officials say refinishing the gymnasium floor, which will cost approximately $15,000, was due anyway.

The floors and walls will remain empty of logos or mascots until funds are raised to paint new ones, Gilardi said.

Changes to school documents and stationary, estimated at $500, would have to be done regardless of the name change because Laurie Mason is replacing the retiring Sandy Kuzma as principal at the re-named school, according to chief financial officer Wade Roach.

Parent groups have committed funds to other elements of the name change. At the Mountain Shadows promotion ceremony last Friday, members of the Parent Teacher Association sold discounted Rams' T-shirts for $2.50. Proceeds were earmarked to support the name change and sales were brisk.

"I think they want a souvenir of the school," said Gina Du Par, president of the Mountain Shadows Parent Teacher Association. "I know there are a lot of Mountain Shadows parents who support the name change," she said.

But some parents have complained that the money would be better used to bridge a funding deficit that has caused layoffs, the elimination of middle-school sports and larger class sizes.

"It's caused a little bit of a blowup between the parents," Cattaneo said.

District officials backed the change, arguing it allows for a new start for all students -- including those sixth- and seventh-graders who will have begun their careers as Mountain Shadows Rams and will end them as Lawrence E. Jones Jaguars.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@