LMU Family of Schools Middle School Named for Famed NASA Mathematician


The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education has adopted a proposal to rename the year-old New Middle School Pathway — part of the LMU Family of Schools — the Katherine Johnson STEM Academy in honor of the famed NASA mathematician, whose calculations were instrumental in sending the first American astronauts into space in the early 1960s and to the moon in 1969.

The middle school opened last fall on the campus of Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet High School, serving grades 6-8 with a STEM focus. It is one of nine traditional public schools in the LMU Family of Schools, which also includes four Catholic Archdiocesan schools and three charter schools. The SOE-based LMU Family of Schools, a partnership between the university and schools in the Westchester, Playa Vista and Playa Del Rey areas near the LMU campus, is dedicated to promoting student success and educational equity through service, partnerships, research and professional development.

“Katherine Johnson is an amazing role model for our students and our community,” said Darin Earley, Director of the LMU Family of Schools. “As an African American female scientist, she exemplifies the academic excellence, intellectual courage and tenacity we hope to see in all of our students.”

The recommended name for the new middle school came out of a committee consisting of parents, students, staff, community members and the school’s principal, SOE alum Kyle Hunsberger, MA ’06. The official announcement of its adoption was made at LAUSD’s June 12 board meeting by another SOE alum, Nick Melvoin, MA ’10, who represents District 4 on the LAUSD board, which includes Westchester.

“This name ties in with the mission and vision of the school — STEM, inspiring young women to go into scientific studies, honoring trailblazers and being more inclusive,” Melvoin said in making the announcement.

Born in 1918 in West Virginia, Katherine Johnson graduated from high school at age 13 and went on to become one of three black students selected to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools. She began working in aeronautics as a “computer” in 1952, and after the formation of NASA, she contributed to the mathematics that allowed Americans to go into orbit and to the moon. In 2015, at the age of 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — by President Obama. Johnson was among the female African-American mathematicians whose NASA contributions were portrayed in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

A Katherine Johnson STEM Academy naming ceremony and celebration is being planned for August.