In a few years, students in Spokane could be attending a middle school named for someone who charted a new path – in education, the law or through the wilderness.
Spokane Public Schools released a list of finalists Monday for each of its three new middle schools and the OnTrack Academy.
The school board is expected to make its decisions May 26.
The list was culled from thousands of submissions and reflects the diversity of the region.
The finalists for the new middle school on Foothills Drive include Japanese American teacher Denny Yasuhara, African American attorney and teacher Frances Scott, and Beacon Pines, which evokes Beacon Hill in northeast Spokane.
The new middle school near Albi Stadium will be named for African American teacher Eugene Breckenridge, Spokane Tribe elder Pauline Flett or former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
For the new middle school to be built on the South Hill, the finalists are Holocaust freedom fighter Carla Peperzak, former Spokane teacher John Oakley, and York, the lone African American on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The On Track Academy may also receive a new name, although the current name also made the cut. The other two choices are Pacific Northwest Academy and Way’sl’axt, a Salish phrase that means “hello, friend.”
The district hasn’t done this since 1994, when it opened Chase Middle School. It is named for James Chase, the city’s first African American mayor.
According to district guidelines, schools may be named for “a person who made a noteworthy contribution to education, community, or society; a geographic characteristic based on location or primary function of the facility; or a logical association with the new school.
Each of the finalists received at least one vote from the public during a submission period that began two years ago.
The committee reviewed 1,428 suggestions. However, the district declined to share how much public support each finalist and unsuccessful candidate received.
Here is a summary of each finalist:
Northeast middle school
Denny Yasuhara – A teacher at Logan Elementary and Garry Middle School, he was president of the Spokane Coalition for Human Rights and was active within the Japanese community. Yasuhara was also known for donating money to buy shoes, clothes and school supplies for his students in need.
Frances Scott – Spokane’s first African American female attorney, she was a teacher at Rogers High School for more than 30 years. Scott grew up in Spokane and graduated from Whitworth. When she began teaching English and German at Rogers in 1958, she was one of four Black teachers in SPS.
Beacon Pines – The name evokes Spokane’s Beacon Hill, located northeast of the city. Many might not know Beacon Hill gets its name from Beacon Tower, which sits stop the hill and was used in early aviation until the invention of radar.
Northwest middle school
Eugene Breckenridge – Born and raised in Spokane, Breckenridge served in the U.S. Army in World War II, then became the first African American teacher in Spokane Public Schools in 1951. Breckenridge, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Whitworth, taught math and science at middle school and Shadle Park High School.
Pauline Flett – An elder in the Spokane Tribe, she worked to have the Salish dialect written, taught and preserved for future generations. She co-wrote the first Spokane-English dictionary and taught the language at Eastern Washington University, where her notes are held in collections at EWU and the Smithsonian Institution.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – An American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in September 2020. Ginsburg spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights.
South middle school
Carla Peperzak – A Dutch Resistance operative and Holocaust freedom fighter during World War II, Peperzak moved to Spokane in 2004. Now in her 90s, she has shared her story with students and others across the region. She was honored in 2020 as Washingtonian of the Year.
John Oakley – A teacher and coach in the district for 36 years, Oakley taught, coached and inspired students at Garfield and Roosevelt elementary schools and Sacajawea Middle School. After his ALS diagnosis, he continued to teach and coach, and in the process taught his students how to deal with adversity with a positive attitude.
York – Born into slavery, York was an explorer and the lone African American on the Lewis and Clark expedition. This made him the first African American to cross North America and reach the Pacific Ocean.
On Track Academy
On Track Academy – The current, original name of On Track Academy was intended to reflect students getting “on track” for graduation. Some submissions asked if the school’s name needed to change just because it was getting a new building.
Pacific NW Learning Academy – The name is intended to signify inclusivity. There is also a Pacific NW Academy in Wilsonville, Ore.
Way’sl’axt – A Salish phrase that means “hello friend,” it is both a recognition of local history and an invitation to students that all are welcome, valued and appreciated.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.