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Walla Walla School Board names new learning hub

This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a correction.

With plenty of discussion and some disagreement on Tuesday, the Walla Walla School Board chose the name of next year’s early learning hub.

What is now Blue Ridge Elementary School will become Walla Walla Center for Children and Families when the building opens next fall to preschool and pre-kindergarten classes plus — the district hopes — agencies serving the same demographic.

The board voted in October to authorize the use of Blue Ridge as an early learning center to address two issues: wasted classroom space due to dropping district enrollment and a lack of readiness in Walla Walla children entering school.

According to a board policy revised in 2016, the naming of a district facility must follow rules, Superintendent Wade Smith said.

Those include names of people who have honorably attained national or local prominence, in recognition of large financial contributions to a specific project or the names of geographic characteristics of the area, such as the Blue Mountains.

The resulting candidates must be known and significant to those living in the district, but can’t compete with the names of other entities in the area.

The five-member naming committee surveyed people, researched Walla Walla history, considered gender and racial inequality in current school names, sought for a moniker most descriptive of overall services anticipated for the early-learning hub and ruled out using the Blue Ridge name to highlight the shift in building use.

Although no one name garnered overwhelming committee support, the group eventually offered the board four possibilities:

  • S.G. (Sarah) Miner Center for Children and Families — Miner was the first known school teacher in Walla Walla after she moved here in 1861. Miner led the city’s first public schoolroom, initially located in a store building at Palouse and Alder streets before the first school was built here in 1866.
  • Walla Walla Center for Children and Families — the naming committee found this simple and straightforward.
  • Blue Mountain Center for Children and Families — a name reflecting local geography.
  • Dorion Center for Children and Families — In 1810, Maria Dorion Venier Toupin (1786-1850) survived with her two young sons in the Blue Mountains by snaring animals and smoking the meat of her dead horses after her husband was killed as part of a fur-trapping party overtaken by the Bannock tribe. Dorion has been memorialized in Oregon and near Wallula Junction, the naming committee noted.

The school board voted 4 to 1 for Walla Walla Center for Children and Families, with board member Terri Trick opposed, saying she favored the name “Little Learners,” but of the options offered, she preferred “Blue Mountain Center for Children and Families.”

Board members also heard more from Smith on transition plans for Blue Ridge, which have been accelerated to provide information to the school’s current families as soon as possible.

The move will be three-step process, Smith said. “Students, staff and stuff.”

Most important is informing families about where their children will be attending school next year, followed by doing the same for staff, then moving supplies and furniture.

In the broadest picture, most Blue Ridge kids will attend either Green Park or Prospect Point elementary schools, depending on grade, where older siblings attend and whether they are enrolled in the dual-language program, Smith told the board.

Every Blue Ridge family will be contacted by phone or in person “in a matter of weeks” to hear more, ask questions and voice concerns, he said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.