Woodrow Wilson High School will become Dr. Dolores Silas High School officially on July 1, 2021, after the Tacoma School Board of Directors voted unanimously Feb. 11 to rename the 61-year-old school.
“What this is about is the students that we serve day in and day out,” said School Board Member Korey Strozier. “How do we foster environments that allow them to be successful. Environments that are as free and clear of racism, bigotry, hate as they can be.”
He described why he supported the name change: “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. And what I’ve learned from the past is that we have to actively mold, shape and change our current situation so in the future, the past—that many might seem to be so comfortable with—won’t be repeated.
“A name change does not take the place of systemic change. But it does show that we are ready and willing to do the hard work of confronting racism and other injustices. There’s more work in front of us than behind us,” Strozier said.
Student representatives on the school board also endorsed the name change—even though they did not have a vote.
“It’s a great school, and that’s not going to change just because the name changes,” said Wilson High School Senior Nathan Essman. “The name change is probably going to make it even better.”
“Names are important,” said Jazmin Pearson, a senior at the Science and Math Institute. “They hold meaning. My last name—Pearson—can most likely be traced back to those who owned my ancestors who were forced into slavery. That is the unfortunate truth to my name. To those who personally understand the burden of these truths, a name change is not just a chance to be politically correct, but a chance to stand on the right side of history, to foster a new truth.
“It is not enough to be neutral. It is not enough to not be racist. We must all take a stance and take actions to be anti-racist. And this name change is a good first step,” Pearson said.
School Board President Andrea Cobb noted that a name change doesn’t mean “forgetting our history. It’s about continuing to create a future that all of our citizens are proud of…Times shift, culture shifts, communities shift. And we shouldn’t be so rooted in the past that we don’t shift the orientation of our institutions to change or reflect the wants and needs of the community.”
While the name change takes effect this summer, the transition of signage and other changes will occur over several months. The high school will retain its Ram mascot and its red, white and blue school colors.
In 2020, Tacoma Public Schools received requests from community members to rename the high school due to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s history as a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer and his participation in racist ideologies and practices.
Superintendent Carla Santorno deemed the request worthy of consideration and, following policy established by the School Board, sent it to Wilson High School Principal Bernadette Ray. Ray formed a committee, which conducted a survey and reviewed options. In the committee’s final report back to the superintendent, they offered three options:
- Name it after Dolores Silas.
- Name it after Ruby Bridges, a U.S. civil rights activist who was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white Louisiana elementary school in 1960.
- Keep the Wilson name but remove all associations with Woodrow Wilson.
In January, Santorno endorsed the community committee’s recommendation to rename Woodrow Wilson High School after local educator and trailblazer Dolores Silas.
Dolores Silas, 94, who still lives in Tacoma, started as a teacher in Tacoma Public Schools. She taught at DeLong Elementary School, then later became DeLong’s principal—the first Black woman to serve as an administrator in Tacoma Public Schools.
Later, Silas became the first Black woman to serve on the Tacoma City Council, in 1991.
In addition, she has long served as a local voice for racial equity and justice as president of the Tacoma Chapter for the NAACP.
The City of Tacoma honored Silas with a Lifetime Service Award in 2019. She also received the Tacoma Historical Society’s Star of Destiny Award in 2019.
“Dr. Dolores Silas is an amazing woman who has been a leader in this city, who has been someone we can be proud of,” said School Board Member Elizabeth Bonbright.
The district’s consideration of the name change comes after others have removed the name of Woodrow Wilson from their institutions, including:
- In February 2020, a school district in Richmond, Calif., changed the name of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School to Michelle Obama Elementary School.
- In June 2020, Princeton University removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and Wilson College.
- In October 2020, the school board in Washington, D.C, voted to change the name of Woodrow Wilson High School.
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...