Chief Leschi Schools (formerly known as the Puyallup Tribal School) was founded in 1976 to address the high drop out rate of the youth in the Puyallup Tribe. This first school operated in what was the Hawthorne Elementary School, which was borrowed from the Tacoma School District. It once stood on the site that is now occupied by the Tacoma Dome.
Two years later in 1978, a new elementary school was built on tribal lands near the current tribal administration building. The middle and high schools held their classes on the second and third floors of the tribal administration building but, with such poor working conditions the staff turnover rate was high. In 1991 federal engineers found that this building was unsafe and deemed that it would not withstand even a minor earthquake. Again, the students had to be moved to another building. After making arrangements with St. Ann’s Catholic Church, a vacant elementary school on South 72nd Street was used for the middle and high schools. It was at this time that our school was renamed, Chief Leschi Schools. There were 790 students and 205 staff members in these overcrowded classrooms. There was no gym for the sports teams and they played their games in a nearby athletic center. These were trying times.
By 1983, there were only 99 students enrolled. It was during the next year that Chief Leschi Schools faced closure because the enrollment had dropped to about 60 students.
From these early hardships that were endured by the staff, school board members, parents, students, friends and tribal council, developed a model tribal school which is everything a dream school should be. It took 20 years of talking, dreaming, planning, and 11 years of actively pursuing it. With the hard work of representatives like Don Renwick who made 29 trips to Washington D.C. and the loyal teachers assistants of whom which had endured stifling classrooms, this dream school was destined to happen.
There were several major setbacks at the federal appropriations level that tribal leaders and school administrators had to overcome. At one point, our school which had been designated as one of the top ten priority, was changed to the 63rd, which caused much concern.
Today, our new 32 million, 200,000 square-foot school is the crown jewel of the Puyallup Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is the largest of seven tribal schools in the state of Washington and one of approximately 200+ tribal schools in the United States. It is also one of the largest tribal schools that has been funded by the Bureau of Indian Education. To help make this dream come true, the Puyallup Tribe bought 68 acres of farm land which included a farmhouse and outbuildings. The farm house has been remodeled since then and is used for the administration offices.
In our first year of operation, there were 788 students with 32 graduating seniors.