Bethel School District names new school after pioneering black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson

As school districts across the country grapple with renaming schools that honor historical figures with racist pasts, the Bethel School District in Pierce County is being proactive in its approach. 

The Bethel School Board voted unanimously Monday night to name its 18th elementary school after Katherine Johnson, a black mathematician who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits for NASA’s early space missions and was later portrayed in the 2016 hit film “Hidden Figures.” 

US President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should

“She was a trailblazer in her own right for so many people,” said Bethel School Board President Marcus Young. “What she was able to accomplish with her God given ability as well as everything she overcame, affected so many lives on so many different levels. It is our hope that as our students walk the halls of this new school they will be filled with the same drive to be the best at what they do, the same determination to overcome obstacles set before them and the same focus to make this world better, just like Katherine Johnson.”

Johnson, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama, died in February at 101 years old. 

Katherine G. Johnson Elementary is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021. You can watch regular video updates of the construction here.