North Clackamas School officials broke ground Wednesday for the district’s newest high school — the end of a contentious and historic process.
Adrienne C. Nelson High School is named for the associate justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. Last year, she became the first African American to serve on either the state Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
The decision to name the high school after the justice was controversial.
“I am totally overwhelmed and humbled by the support and quite frankly by the conversation that happened to bring us to this day ... this was a process,” Nelson said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
In 2018, the North Clackamas school board voted against using her name and a selection committee’s second choice, former Oregon Symphony director James DePriest, who was also black.
This year, they reconsidered.
“I think that’s important for people to know and people to remember, because we have to remember everything,” Nelson said. “Not just the pretty parts — the hard parts, the struggle. Because it makes for who we are.”
Judge Nelson in conversation with Think Out Loud from January 2018.
Members of the Clackamas High School Black Student Union spoke about the significance of having a high school named after a black woman in a district with 11 schools named after white men.
Brianna Gibson, a rising senior a Clackamas, said she wrote a letter that was passed around the district and signed by students because of the lack of representation in school names really affected her.
“Before now, the only person’s name that wasn’t the graduate that was put on diplomas was a white man or a white woman,” Gibson said. “And there was never a person of color’s name that was being honored by being placed on high school diplomas.”
Adrienne C. Nelson High School is the only high school named after a woman of color in the state.
“This is going to be a place where students know they are enough, and they can build from that and grow from that and become the wonderful human beings they are designed to be,” Justice Nelson said.
The high school will be the fourth in a quickly growing school district. Adrienne C. Nelson High School will cost about $90 million and is an expansion of the current site of Rock Creek Middle School. It will include the addition of 16 classrooms, a college and career center, school based health center, varsity gym and weight room, performing arts spaces including a black box theater and auditorium, and much more.
North Clackamas Superintendent Matt Utterback said the most exciting part about the school is its advocate.
“To have a brand new high school with its namesake walking the halls and speaking to our students is a gift for our school district,” Utterback said, “but more importantly it's a gift for our students.”
The school is slated to open in September 2021.