Lacey Public Schools? North Thurston board to discuss name change

Andy Ryder, Lacey’s mayor and North Thurston graduate, is championing changing the North Thurston School District’s name to Lacey Public Schools. It’s an idea supported by outgoing Superintendent Raj Manhas, with concerns voiced by some Thurston alumni.
Andy Ryder, Lacey’s mayor and North Thurston graduate, is championing changing the North Thurston School District’s name to Lacey Public Schools. It’s an idea supported by outgoing Superintendent Raj Manhas, with concerns voiced by some Thurston alumni.

Thurston County’s largest school system, North Thurston Public Schools, was founded in 1953 — 13 years before the city of Lacey incorporated.

But now that more than half of its schools are in the city limits, should the district change its name to reflect its headquarters?

Andy Ryder, Lacey’s mayor and a North Thurston High School graduate, thinks so. He said this is the perfect time to change it, as the city prepares to celebrate its 50th birthday.

“It would be a great sort of present from the school district that to acknowledge that they are our school district,” Ryder said.

The North Thurston School Board has scheduled a 7 p.m. work session for April 18 to discuss the idea of changing the district’s name to Lacey Public Schools. The meeting is open to the public, although community input is usually not taken during work sessions, said district spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve.

The idea has been kicked around for several years during joint city council and school board meetings, but it appears to be getting some traction, said soon-to-be-retired North Thurston superintendent Raj Manhas.

“They are interested in this, but our board hasn’t had any discussion as a board,” he said. “This is the first time they’ll be having this deep discussion about do they want to go on this route to change the name.”

Manhas said he’s personally in support of the idea. North Thurston becomes a barrier when trying to recruit potential employees at statewide and national events.

“People ask, ‘Where is North Thurston?’ ” he said. “It’s a name-identity issue, and we are stationed right here in Lacey, but our name doesn’t reflect that.”

More than half of the district’s 22 schools are inside the city limits, and the rest are in Lacey’s urban growth area — with the exception of South Bay Elementary, which is in unincorporated Thurston County.

Manhas said he knows it could be a controversial move.

“We existed before the city of Lacey became a city, so I’m sure there are some emotional attachments to the name,” he said.

Opponents of the idea include a contingent of the school district’s retirees, including Sharon Moorehead, 64, who taught in the district for 30 years and was assistant principal at Lakes Elementary School. She said North Thurston is more reflective of the district’s families and taxpayers.

“I don’t live in the city of Lacey and a whole variety of our schools do not reside in the city of Lacey,” she said. “Thurston County means more to me than Lacey, and I’m hoping Lacey never comes my way. ... I like being part of the county.”

Moorehead said she believes it’s going to be expensive to repaint buses, replace letterhead and make all of the legal changes needed for a new name.

Besides, she said, the district already changed its name once, from North Thurston School District to North Thurston Public Schools, more than a decade ago.

“Their explanation back then was that it wasn’t going to be a great expense,” she said. “ ... I’m curious if they’re going to be honest about the cost.”

Jim Slosson, a former North Thurston teacher, administrator, student and parent, said the district was created during the 1950s, when Lacey and South Bay school districts joined together to build a high school. Before that, students from the northeastern portion of Thurston County went to Olympia High School.

“Their grievances started with a lack of activity buses,” he said. “Remember, most families only had one car at that time. In addition, the residents perceived that their kids were slighted in favor of the ‘town’ kids.”

Slosson said the founders of the new district decided to name it North Thurston so that it wouldn’t show favoritism to Lacey or South Bay.

“I believe the present board has an obligation to preserve the name North Thurston as a means of keeping the original promises made at the founding of the district,” he said. “The city of Lacey came much later.”

Dana Rosenbach, superintendent of the North Mason School District, said she relates to North Thurston’s identity problem when trying to scout for teachers and staff members, but to her knowledge there’s never been a move to change her district’s name.

“Nobody is necessarily going to know where Belfair is either,” she said. “We really market our environment to our potential employees.”

She said her district is made up of several rural communities, and there’s a lot of community pride in North Mason’s roots. Before the district formed, students in the area attended high schools in Shelton, South Kitsap or Central Kitsap districts. The district’s supporters got permission to build a middle school, but not a high school.

They built a building and began offering high school classes anyway, she said.

“They said to Washington state, ‘Too bad, we did it,’” Rosenbach said. “And they’re very proud of having that high school.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton