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Irene B. West, Elk Grove's first Black teacher, dies at 88

Irene B. West Elementary, which was built in 2002, is named after her.

ELK GROVE, Calif. — Irene B. West, the first Black teacher in Elk Grove, has died at the age of 88. She is remembered by her children Clifton, Cornel, Cheryl, and Cynthia as well as her grandchildren and extended family.

West moved to Elk Grove in the 1960s when her husband was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base. At the time, Elk Grove had virtually no Black population. West became a teacher in 1962.

Born and raised in the south in the 1930s, you'd think the racial climate of America would make her fearful to go for a teaching job in a place where there were no other Black people. But West didn't let that stop her.

She worked in the Elk Grove school district for 27 years. Making her way from teacher to principal at Cosumnes River and Franklin Schools all while raising four children. 

Irene West Elementary, which was built in 2002, is named after her. Upon retiring, West would visit the school which has a picture from her first class on the wall of the front office.

Principal Brian MacNeill spoke about her passing and her legacy with ABC10 on Thursday.

“The thing that I loved about Mrs. West in getting to know her was just understanding her passion for education and why she did what she did,” MacNeil said.

West has previously said her dedication to her family and raising her four children with values was one of her greatest achievements. The Sacramento Observer named her Mother of the Year in 1963.

“She really was a trailblazer. She kind of paved the way for all the equity work that we’re doing now. It’s on the shoulders of folks like her,” MacNeil said.

The school strives to carry on that legacy, MacNeil said. He said the best way to honor that legacy is to continue the push for high achievement for all students, not just those who come from privileged backgrounds or who look a certain way.

MacNeil also shared his desire for the school to create a physical marker for remembrance.

“I think it would be good to have something tangible on campus. We’ve talked about installing a bench in her honor or installing a garden just to represent life and just to honor her legacy,” he said.

ABC10 spoke with West in 2020 for Black History Month. You can read more about her life and achievements by clicking here.

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