Public school names have meaning

February 18th, 2023 by Ken

What’s in a name.  If it has to do with our public school system, then a name of a school can signal many interesting observations.

Time was, when the naming of a school was a significant  activity.  It was a time that a name on a school reflected long time feelings of community, of patriotism, of dedication to the education of children.  Time was, when a name on a school reflected more than just a location.  It stood for something significant.

Recently, around our country, efforts have been made by some groups, to erase names on school buildings.  For various reasons, names of important and significant figures had not stood the test of time.  And those names no longer belong on a school.  Other groups fought back, taking a stand on the history and implication of those names.

How has our greater community school system fared.  We have 30 elementary schools in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater school districts.  A review of the names reflect, in many ways, the history and values of those school districts.

The Olympia school district is the oldest in our area.  Some of those names reflect the history of the district and are named after presidents – – Garfield, Lincoln, Madison and Roosevelt.  It also has two middle schools – Jefferson and Washington named after presidents.

But, Olympia has gone even further in naming schools after individuals.  Hansen elementary I believe was named after Julia Butler Hansen, the first female congresswoman from our district.  McKenney was named after Margaret McKenney a longtime environmental activist.  L.P. Brown, I think, is named after a state school superintendent.

Olympia has also named a middle school after Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights activist and the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court.

The Tumwater School District has named its two of its elementary schools after pioneering families in the area.  Michael T. Simmons and Peter G. Schmidt.  One the leader of the first pioneers to settle in Tumwater and one the founder of the Olympia brewing company.  It has also named one of its middle schools after George Bush, a black member of the first pioneering family and a renown supporter of the community.

Now we get to the Lacey schools. North Thurston Public School District (Its official name) has had an unwritten policy for decades in not naming schools after individuals.  One of the early schools in the district was named for Lydia Jane Hawk whose family donated the land on which the school sits.  All the rest of the names of its 13 elementary schools are named after locations such as Lakes, Mt. View, Evergreen Forest and on and on.  South Bay Elementary was an original school added into the district when the South Bay School District and the Lacey School District merged in 1953.  All of its middle schools are named after native American tribes or locations.

Schools mean a great deal to a community.  Names on school buildings should mean more than where the school is located.  Names on school buildings should reflect the values and history of a community.  It’s unfortunate that the North Thurston district refuses to change its name to Lacey to reflect the community it serves.   And, its time to rid the district of its unofficial policy of not naming school buildings after people. What a waste of community involvement.

Posted in The Real News

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