Tacoma Schools Change Names | Tacoma Daily Index
By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Whether you oppose or support the name changes of two of Tacoma’s most important schools, the reality is that for the next school year, Woodrow Wilson High School and Jason Lee Middle School will have different names – names that resonate. probably better with their identity. and place in Tacoma history.
I have to admit that the names of the schools have always been a mystery to me.
What has a president or a historical or local figure done to justify having a school named after him?
Have they visited or even lived at a time when the school was formed?
Did the school have a shrine or a monument in homage to an ideal that this person defended or represented?
Did the president or a public figure attend this school as a child?
(Should we have a Frank Herbert, Gary Larson (Far Side cartoonist) or Dale Chihuly High School?)
Is it an honor to give your name to a school? An obligation? A joke?
Several eons ago I attended Perry G. Keithley Junior High.
Who was Perry G. Keithley and what did he do to deserve, um, the honor of having a high school named after him?
I guess the brutal attitude of teachers and students I suffered (including literal corporal punishment for not having a shirt tucked in) is long gone.
But Pink Floyd could have used my high school experience for their mind-numbing portrayals of mind and soul in The Wall.
And poor Perry G. Keithley must have felt indistinctly, the swear words of his name as early teens made their way through the claustrophobic hallways and the continually demeaning and intimidating gauntlet of the junior high school years.
That was, of course, many years ago.
I am sure such things are not currently permitted.
It’s not just students who have been affected; I had an English teacher who recorded (on a huge tape recorder on his desk) his morning “lectures” and played them back throughout the rest of the day.
The smoky teachers’ room was off-limits to students.
In short, in those dark days, school (at least my experience) was not meant to be a “positive” experience. It was meant to be endured.
Complying and submitting seemed to be the overarching message of everyday class and rules arbitrarily (and generally cruelly) enforced.
School, to say the least, is a very different place now.
Individual needs, skills and trajectories are (widely) recognized and respected.
Local schools themselves are increasingly taking names that reflect their regions, values and histories.
I have often wondered, for example, what President Franklin Pierce must have done to get a county, college, and high school to bear his name.
It has never been in this field and has been associated with minimal or no laws, rules or proclamations that have impacted all of us.
Naming schools after distant political figures (or even dubious historical figures, like Jason Lee) is a holdover from the distant past.
After all, how many streets, schools, and so-called “presidential” parks do we need?
Doesn’t it seem like every city has a neighborhood of streets named after presidents?
But when it comes to schools in Tacoma, at least currently, other than Lincoln High School, our high schools reflect our history, our region, or each individual school’s accent.
Henry Foss High School, for example, is named after civic leader and tugboat magnate Henry Foss. (My only problem with Foss High School is that it should have been named after Thea Foss – the founder of the company that still bears her name).
And how many Mount Tahoma high schools are there across the country?
What other city has a school with a name like SOTA? (School Of The Arts) or SAMI (Science And Math Institute)?
And what other city has a school with programs or a name like IDEA (School of Industrial Design, Engineering and Art)?
Stadium High School shares its name with the larger neighborhood, as does Oakland Alternative High School.
Starting with the school year starting in September 2021, two new names will appear on the Tacoma public school landscape.
What was known as Jason Lee will now be known as Hilltop Heritage Middle School and the school formerly known as Wilson High School will be named after a local figure: Dolores Silas.
Who was Dolorès Silas?
She was the first black woman to serve as the administrator of Tacoma Public Schools after becoming principal of DeLong Elementary School. She also became the first black woman to serve on Tacoma City Council in 1991.
She was also president of the Tacoma NAACP, first elected in 1978, and was recognized by the City of Tacoma with a Lifetime Service Award in 2019.
She died just weeks after being recognized at a public event commemorating the school’s new name.
She may be gone, but her name and legacy lives on.