Elementary school named after longtime educator
Elementary school named after longtime educator
Posted on 03/15/2019

It’s not every day you get a new school named after you.

In fact, when she was first approached about it, Dessie Evans couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “There’s a lot of other names that could have been chosen,” she says.

Perhaps that is why ‘humble’ is one of the words used to describe her by School Board Director Michael Keaton when Puyallup’s newest school was officially named Dessie F. Evans Elementary.

A teacher in the district for 33 years, Evans was chosen for the honor by the school board last spring. It is clear from comments made by those who know her, Evans’ impact on students and her service in the community make her a deserving choice. She is described as a woman of character and integrity — a masterful teacher in the classroom who realizes that a ‘one-option’ approach will not serve every learner.

“Her touch as an educator has lifted the profession that positively changed the lives of countless students and families,” says School Board Director Chris Ihrig.

Meet Dessie F. Evans
Evans was 21 years old in 1975 when she moved to the Pacific Northwest from Frierson, Louisiana. She grew up in a very small town where all of the students in her school were African-American. It wasn’t until she started high school that integration began and she had a few Caucasian teachers.

Dessie F. EvansA graduate from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and looking for adventure, she moved to Washington on an affirmative action program. After student teaching in Redmond, she interviewed with a couple of districts before landing at Kalles Junior High in Puyallup. Evans spent her entire career at Kalles teaching social studies and language arts to seventh graders, and some eighth graders. She retired in 2008, then served as a substitute teacher until 2011.

“Coming up here was a total culture shock for me as a black woman. The first couple of weeks were a trial. I was shopping at Safeway and a couple of guys came up to me in the parking lot and asked ‘what are you doing here?’ I told them ‘I’m shopping, what about you?’” she says with laughter.

Then, she found her home and family at Kalles Junior High. The principal and staff welcomed her with open arms. “They were very supportive from day one. I love that school and all the people who work there. This is where the Lord placed me,” says Evans.

She recalls one staff member, back in 1975, who told her, “We’ve had one black teacher here and he couldn’t make it because he couldn’t handle the culture and had to move on.”  That’s when Evans said, “Don’t worry about me — I’ll be here a long time. You’re telling me I won’t be able to make it, and I want you to know that I will.”

She laughs at the memory: When she left Louisiana she promised her mother, who didn’t want her to come to Washington, she would return in two years. “I had no idea I would be here so long,” says Evans.

There have been significant changes in the culture of Puyallup since she arrived.  “Puyallup is more open, more accepting. The African-American population at Kalles has grown quite a bit. When I started teaching at Kalles there weren’t more than ten African-American students in the whole school — when I left there were about 40,” she says.

Evans continues to live in Puyallup with her husband. They raised three children here. Since retiring, she enjoys spending more time with her husband and helping with her grandchildren. She continues to give back to the community, volunteers at church a few times a month, and participates in a neighborhood Bible study. “I just try to help where I can, since I have time. I try to help my neighbors, and talk to and encourage people,” says Evans.

Her teaching career
As an educator, Evans taught thousands of students throughout her career. She always encouraged each student to do their best. She wanted them to understand that everyone has something to contribute and deserves to be treated with respect.

“I let them understand that every one of them is special. I tried to teach my kids respect for one another. You treat others the way that you want to be treated,” she says.

Evans was named Puyallup School District Secondary Teacher of the Year in 2008. Her nomination described her as an educator who actively engaged her students and understood that some students learn in different ways. She designed lessons that with hands-on learning experiences that enticed students into action.

  “She always gives more than she asks in return, and is content to let her actions stand for themselves. She is an excellent role model for students.”
 - 2008 Teacher of the Year nomination

It was not unusual for her to work late into the evening and on weekends — many times as late as 9 p.m. She was intent on keeping up with individual students and letting them know that they were important. She also used the time to make contact with parents.

Evans believes students need to be inspired, encouraged, and pushed to do more than they think they can. She cites an example of a student she had in two classes who struggled a lot and spent many days with her after school. At the end of the year he came back to apologize to her. He said in the beginning he saw that she was black and thought she was a pain. However, because she refused to give up on him and continued to encourage him — now he realizes that he was the issue and she had given him the tools to be successful.

“It’s important for every student to know: Yes, you are going to make mistakes. None of us are perfect, but that doesn’t mean you are a bad person. How can I address these mistakes and make life better for myself and those around me?” she says.

Kalles teacher Jeanna Kooser, who worked with her for many years, recalls Evans really believed and lived the credo that she was there to serve. “Even if a student was not being particularly receptive towards her, she refused to give up. She tempered this belief by additionally refusing to let a student bring less than his/her best,” says Kooser.

Dessie was the ultimate professional. She simply refused to engage in behavior that she deemed unproductive. People tended to sit up a bit straighter around her,” says Kooser.

Former student and Puyallup’s Chief Instructional Leadership Officer, Vince Pecchia, recalls Evans as, “A teacher who was kind, supportive, and showed a genuine care for all students. She made learning fun and created a safe environment for all students. Mrs. Evans is an amazing teacher who values and cares for all students.”

“She epitomizes everything good about being a good human being and an excellent educator. She never was complacent and was hungry to learn more. More importantly, she treated everyone with a genuine heart. You will find no one more deserving.”
Chief Operations Officer Mario Casello (Former Kalles Principal)

 

Message to staff and students
Dessie Evans expresses her gratitude to everyone who had a hand in naming the school after her. “People have been wonderful. My family and friends are very excited. My former colleagues have contacted me, and people stop me in the street in my neighborhood. I am very grateful and honored,” says Evans.

As the namesake for Dessie F. Evans Elementary, her desire is that the school represents a culture of respect for all people regardless, of race, nationality, ability, height, weight, or anything that would be considered negative by society.

“I want each one of them to know that he or she is special and be treated as an individual. I want people to remember that you can never raise yourself by lowering others. Our job is to build one another up. I also think it’s important to work hard and do your best. That’s my message to the students.”

Dessie F. Evans Elementary
Puyallup School District’s newest elementary is currently under construction and scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. Located in the southwest corner of the district at 7911 144th St. E., the two-story building will sit on 16.7 acres. It will be one of the largest elementary schools in Washington, with the capacity to serve 1,080 students. The school has a unique zigzag design and incorporates nature as a learning tool — both indoors and out.

Principal Kevin Hampton and Assistant Principal Kris Diamond attended the School Board Meeting on April 2, 2018 when the new elementary was named after Evans. Both Hampton and Diamond know Evans as they have worked with her at Kalles in the past.

To learn more, visit the Operations website. A time-lapse camera is available to watch the construction.


Nancy French
frenchnl@puyallup.k12.wa.us