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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane school board renames Sheridan Elementary for African American attorney Frances Scott

Frances Scott teaches a class at Rogers High in 1989.  (Spokesman-Review photo archives)

In a historic decision, the Spokane Public Schools board has renamed Sheridan Elementary School for someone who made history in her community.

By a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the board chose to name the school after Frances Scott, a Spokane native who went on to become the city’s first African American female attorney.

Scott, who endured racial discrimination for much of her life, also went on to teach for 30 years at Rogers High School and later led the local teachers union, the Spokane Education Association.

Also on Wednesday night, the board approved new mascots: the North Central High School Wolfpack and the Garry Middle School Ravens.

The renaming of an existing school is the first in district history, but it meant even more than that to some.

“This one is a little more personal to me in some ways,” said board President Jerrall Haynes, who is Black.

“I never thought that I would have the opportunity to name a school after a Black woman, especially in Spokane,” Haynes said. “The work and the sacrifice and the love that women have historically displayed gets overlooked.”

That has also been the case in Spokane Public Schools, where until this year only two schools out of 45 – Sacajawea Middle School and Frances Willard Elementary – had been named for women.

Now that number is up to 5, following last month’s decision to name new middle schools after Pauline Flett and Carla Peperzak.

Scott, who died in 2010 at age 88, was among the final list of names submitted for a new middle school in northeast Spokane, but that honor went to another teacher, Denny Yasuhara. The other finalists were East Central – after the neighborhood in which the school is located – and Unity, a reflection of the school’s diversity.

The East Central moniker had been used informally by some at the school, including Principal Larry Quisano, who answered his phone with the greeting, “Sheridan Elementary School in the East Central neighborhood.”

“I look forward to the day when all of our kids, particularly our Native American students, can walk in these halls and truly feel part of this community,” said Quisano, who had been working for the last year to effect the change.

The school was named in 1908 for Philip Sheridan, a controversial figure who was a Civil War hero who went on to lead a cruel war against Native Americans on the Great Plains.

The district had solicited name suggestions from the public. Scott and East Central were the top choices among the public, though the district didn’t reveal the numbers.

“I was very pleased to see that some will probably informally call this East Central, and that is understandable as well,” board member Jenny Slagle said.

Earlier in the meeting, board members approved mascot changes at NC and Garry, following student and community engagement and informal votes.

The change at NC was also the product of hard work by students and Steve Fisk, whose last day as principal was capped by the adoption of the Wolfpack mascot.

Replacing the nearly century-old Indians mascot, the Wolfpack “represents family, persistence, genuine curiosity, and love and care for the community,” Fisk said.

Ironically, Fisk will face a similar task in his new job as superintendent in the Colville School District, where the high school mascot is the Indians.

The change at Garry, according to Principal Wendy Watson, was intended to honor school namesake Chief Garry.

“We are not only honoring him but honoring the Native American culture in our community,” Watson said.