By Puyallup Tribal News Staff


A name change of Tacoma Public Schools’ oldest school, Jason Lee Middle School, is part of the community’s efforts to honor local history and acknowledge the past.


Since last summer, many Tacoma community members have expressed concerns with Lee’s past with the creation Indian boarding schools, which caused generational trauma among many Indigenous people. Lee arrived in the area as a missionary in the 1830s and quickly started to assimilate local Indigenous people by stripping them of their customs, culture, and language as well as cutting their hair short to fit into the white culture.


A Lushootseed name is being considered for the middle school, which is situated on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. With Twulshootseed language revitalization efforts underway, Tribal Member and employee Charlotte Basch proposed the name šəqalič Middle School (pronounced shuh-kah-leech), which is the Lushootseed word for “up on top.”


In a statement to the school board, Basch said, “After meeting with the directors of the Tribe’s Historic Preservation, Culture, and Language departments, the official recommendation from the Puyallup Tribe is to honor the rich and diverse history of the Hilltop neighborhood. Hilltop has a unique history that speaks to the diversity, and often shared struggle, of Tacoma’s residents of color. There is no better way to lift up the story of the community and its residents than by naming the school after them.”


Students and staff voted on the top four proposed names, according to The News Tribune. The Tribe’s recommendation of šəqalič was the second most popular option put in front of the School Board by the naming committee for consideration.


“Hilltop Heritage” received the most votes from students and staff.


“The next step in the process is for the superintendent to make a recommendation to the school board,” said Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications at Tacoma Public Schools. “So far she has not set a firm date for her recommendation, but it could be as early as one of the board meetings in March.”


“It makes sense to enact a name change during the summer break, which is what is happening with our other school name change from Woodrow Wilson High School to Dr. Dolores Silas High School,” said Voelpel.


Puyallup Tribal Member Lucia Earl-Mitchell also served on the middle school’s renaming committee.


“We need to learn from our pass the good and the bad, this is to ensure we don’t repeat unnecessary tragedy and trauma,” Earl-Mitchell said. “We should not erase history but learn from it, teach it the way we want it to be taught. Learn better, do better. We are all in this together.”


Submit your feedback


Puyallup Tribal community members still have time to submit their comments and offer more of an Indigenous perspective about the name change options.


Jason Lee Middle School interim principal Michael Knuckles, is collecting comments, as is the school board. Email your comments to: mknuckl@tacoma.k12.wa.us board@tacoma.k12.wa.us