New Seattle school honors Native visionary Robert Eaglestaff

Hundreds of students will enter Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in North Seattle for their first day of school Wednesday morning. The building will also house Licton Springs K-8 and sits next to the new Cascadia Elementary.

Robert Eaglestaff was an education visionary, a force in the Seattle’s Native American community who transformed a school once labeled “the last stop on the way to no future.”

But for all the effect he had at Seattle’s American Indian Heritage School in the late 1980s and 1990s, he ultimately wanted to return to the South Dakota reservation where he grew up, to see what kind of education impact he could have there.

He never got that chance. Eaglestaff died of a heart attack in 1996 while dancing at a powwow in Oregon. He was 43.

More than two decades later, the Lakota leader is remembered, both in South Dakota and Seattle, where the school district is opening a school bearing his name.

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Robert Eagle Staff Middle School in North Seattle will welcome its first students on Wednesday morning. The building — named “Eagle Staff” at the request of Eaglestaff’s family in South Dakota, who spell their last name with two words — also houses Licton Springs K-8 and sits next to Cascadia Elementary, another new school on the site.

The three schools are among five new or remodeled buildings that Seattle Public Schools is opening this fall. The other two are Olympic Hills Elementary and Meany Middle School. Together, the five schools will ease overcrowding in the school district, which has grown by 8,000 students in 10 years. With the new schools, the addition of some portable classrooms and converting spaces like computer labs into classrooms, Superintendent Larry Nyland said the district added about 2,800 new seats this school year.

Robert Eagle Staff, a neighborhood school, is the first building in the district to be named for a contemporary Native leader. Tom Eagle Staff, Eaglestaff’s oldest brother, said his family is “blown away by the recognition.”

“It is a real honor that a young man from a small community in South Dakota can be recognized in such a large school district, in a large city like Seattle,” Eagle Staff said from South Dakota over the weekend, as he prepared to drive their mother to Seattle for Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Eaglestaff was principal of the now-closed Indian Heritage School, which…

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