Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma is one step closer to changing its name.
Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno recommended to the district’s Board of Directors on Thursday a new name for Tacoma’s Jason Lee Middle School: Hilltop Heritage Middle School.
The school, which enrolls around 600 students, has been undergoing a name-change process since last summer, after people wrote to school leaders asking for a change. They cited a history of cultural genocide and abuse of indigenous people by the man the school was named for.
Jason Lee was a missionary known for the settlement of the Pacific Northwest in the 19th century. He also was largely insensitive to native culture, establishing a school in an effort to convert Native Americans to the beliefs and practices of white Americans. The school also helped spread disease among students.
In February, two names were proposed for consideration by a name-change committee made up of staff, students, parents, alumni and other members of the public. The top suggestions were Hilltop Heritage Middle School and šeqalič Middle School.
šeqalič translates to “high up top” in Lushootseed, a Native American language used by tribes in the Puget Sound region. The area where Jason Lee Middle School is located is traditional Puyallup tribal land, and the name was recommended by the Puyallup Tribe. The “E” in the name is written upside-down in Lushootseed, but The News Tribune’s publishing system will not render that character as such.
Charlotte Basch, who works for the Puyallup Tribe’s Historic Preservation Department and was a member of the Jason Lee renaming committee, said Thursday she respects the Hilltop Heritage name, but only because the tribe doesn’t see the name change as the only partnership with the school district to lift up tribal history.
Basch said there’s a lot of work to do. In some survey responses gathering community feedback on the name change, people said the proposed šeqalič name sounded “funny,” she said.
“Yes, it does sound funny, and the reason it does feel funny, sound funny, is because of people like Jason Lee, who actively, purposefully, institutionally stripped that language from this land, from the people who’ve called it home,” Basch said.
Santorno said the district would like to partner with the Puyallup Tribe to explore ways to incorporate šeqalič into the branding of Hilltop Heritage Middle School. She also proposed revising district policies to incorporate an intentional recognition of the Puyallup Tribe in each school building, which could include signage, renaming of schools, language or art.
Members of the Board of Directors agreed with the effort.
“I love the proposed partnership with the Puyallup Tribe — it’s so much bigger than naming a school, to have a piece of the tribal essence in every single school,” said Director Elizabeth Bonbright.
“We have a lot more work to do, but this is definitely a step in the right direction,” Director Korey Strozier said.
The school board will vote on whether to officially change the name in a board meeting to be determined.
Jason Lee opened in the 1920s and was formerly known as West Intermediate School. The school was the former campus of the College of Puget Sound.
Tacoma Public Schools also voted to change the name of Woodrow Wilson High School to Dolores Silas High School in February.
This story was originally published on The News Tribune.
Cox Media Group