News

Choices for name of new middle school aren't chatching on

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Charles Hoff says choosing the name of Federal Way’s new middle school is a “lose-lose situation” for the School Board.

The seventh middle school in the Federal Way Public Schools system is being built on South 360th Street near Lakeland Elementary School, and the board must choose its name. It’s not as easy as it appears.

“It doesn’t matter what we do. We’re going to get criticized,” said Hoff, a board member.

That’s because a citizens’ campaign backs naming the school after a slain police officer. At the same time, two names from a Native American language have been presented to the board after being selected by students and community members.

After speaking to board members individually, it seems none of the options are a clear favorite.

Kara Dameron, a Totem Middle School student, petitioned the board to consider naming the new middle school after Patrick Maher, a Federal Way Police officer who was shot and killed on duty in 2003.

A district policy states middle schools “are to be named after people, places or events from Native American literature.”

At the board’s last meeting before the school district’s winter break, several people supported Dameron’s request, including Maher’s widow. Dameron collected signatures from the community and presented them to the board.

The new school is scheduled to open next fall for the 2005-06 school year. The issue of a name is an item on the agenda of the board’s March 8 meeting.

The board will have to change the district’s policy for naming a middle school if it wants to go with Maher, Hoff said. But at the board’s retreat in February, he didn’t get the sense other members were inclined to make that change.

Board member Evelyn Castellar doesn’t favor naming the new school after Maher because it doesn’t conform with the district policy.

But board member Earl VanDorien Jr. said naming the school after Maher “is a fine idea.”

“It’s similar to the name Todd Beamer in that it is the name of someone that gave the ultimate sacrifice for a greater good –– someone else,” VanDorien stated in an e-mail. He referred to the district’s newest high school, which the board voted to name after a passenger on one of the airliners that was hijacked by terrorists in the 9-11 attacks.

When the board considered naming the newest high school to the district after Beamer, the process garnered national attention and some local grumbling. High schools “are to be named after famous national American leaders,” according to the policy. And they must be dead.

Beamer died with the other passengers, the crew and the terrorists aboard the jetliner that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. He and others were credited with storming the attackers and forcing the plane down.

While the act was hailed as heroic, some people in the community noted Beamer didn’t have any connection to Federal Way. He lived on the East Coast.

Board member Ed Barney defended the board’s decision, noting Beamer’s name fit the district’s policy for high schools.

If a majority of the board wants to select Maher, the process should be opened to any name, Barney said.

Several people have contacted the board via e-mail since Maher’s name was proposed, asking the school be named after a longtime community member or someone who was involved in Federal Way public education, Castellar said.

Hoff said he has received several e-mails from outside the area supporting the Maher campaign. A friend of the Maher family included the Mirror in an e-mail message asking recipients to lobby Hoff.

“I can feel for the girl trying to do this and the Maher family,” Barney said, adding he had family in law enforcement.

While rejecting the Maher proposal isn’t unanimous, the opinions of board members interviewed is the same about the Native American names.

They don’t like them.

The Native American names are Salish words: mesika (pronounced mee-see-ka) which means “you, your, or yours,” and klahanie (claw-ha-nee), which means “out of doors.”

Board members, again, point to the district’s policy. Castellar and Barney say the names don’t entirely fit. The words are from a Native American language but aren’t referenced to a person, place or event from Native American literature.

“I like to name things for people, a particular person, as in Sacajawea,” VanDorien wrote in his e-mail. “I think that previous boards should have thought through the part about ‘in literature’ when saying (middle schools) had to be named after Indian names, places orevents. Indians didn’t write, there is no literature except what non-Indian’s themselves wrote for history, and only in recent decades have Indians themselves begun to write for themselves. I don’t think it will be easy to get a name from literature.”

VanDorien elaborated, saying Native Americans didn’t have a written language to record literary works and therefore it is difficult to find a name for the school.

Hoff said he is “not enthusiastic” about the proposed Native American names, either.

Since Mt. Rainier is within site of the school, Hoff suggested a name after one of the Native Americans who climbed the mountain.

VanDorien added he’s working with a community member on proposing the name of a local, respected Native American. He said the name is of a chief in the Northwest, but isn’t Chief Sealth.

Bob Millen couldn’t be reached for comment.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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