Board approves change to Willamette Elementary
(Spanish) Columbus Elementary has been renamed Willamette Elementary. The school’s mascot, the Cougar, will remain the same.
In 2019, a Columbus student presented a proposal to the school board about changing the school’s name. The student noted that the school’s namesake was more than a world explorer; he also trafficked in slaves and, in the process, nearly destroyed the native population of what was then called Hispaniola.
A committee – composed of students, school staff, Columbus PTA members and district staff – reached out to Linfield University and the Willamette Education Service District for input on the history and process required to change a school’s name.
Following MSD policy FF for naming a new school, the MSD School Renaming Committee began meeting regularly in September 2022 to consider whether Columbus should be renamed.
The School Renaming Committee included current Columbus students, members of the Columbus PTA, the principal of Columbus, MHS’s ASB president and vice president, the directors of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at WESD and MSD, and the MSD director of Operations.
The committee solicited feedback via a Community Conversation open to all staff, Columbus families and community members and a Student Listening Session with Columbus fourth- and fifth-grade students.
After these sessions, the committee wrote, “After months of carefully considering this matter, our recommendation is that Columbus Elementary School should be renamed. This decision is based on our knowledge of historical facts and our desire to be proud of our school name.”
At the July 10, 2023 school board meeting, members voted to change the school name to Willamette, which means “still water,” as a way to honor the area’s indigenous cultures and tribes. Willamette or Willamette Valley were the top recommendation of the committee. Other names put before the board were West Hills Elementary and Michelle Khatewoda or Michelle K. Elementary (in memory of an influential Columbus Elementary educator).
The new name will be implemented in the 2023-24 school year.