I have learned that there are many people in Provo who have generations of connections to Provo High School. In my nearly six years here I have met many (some in the school district) who attended/graduated from Provo High School; along with parents, grandparents, other family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and on and on and on.
Despite my own lack of personal or generational connection with Provo High School, it seems that I do hold at least somewhat of a unique perspective on the recent past and the near future of the school.
First, and I can say this from having been a high school principal for 11 years, the job of high school principal is tough. At times it seems nearly impossible to do anything right, let alone everything. I believe the high school principalship is the most difficult position in all of public education. Since I arrived in Provo in June 2012, I have needed to hire a principal for PHS two times. Recently Boyd McAffee has been selected as principal for Provo High School. Boyd’s family is a longtime fixture in education in Provo. It seems fitting that a school with a long tradition in the city is being led by someone with almost as long of a relationship to the school. I pay tribute to the leaders and staff at the school from prior decades, along with those there now and those who will work at the school in the future.
In the November 2014 election, the school reconstruction bond measure passed at a record amount for Provo ($108 million) and at a very high pass rate (71 percent). The board received the thorough and thoughtful recommendations of the Facility Advisory Committee preliminary to making the decision for the bond scope and amount. It was a difficult and uncertain process, as the new board and administration were still largely unknown to the community. We were most gratified at the massive groundswell of support for the bond initiative, which included the new Provo High School and four elementary schools. The day will come when we will need a new level of involvement and input from a Facilities Advisory Committee, as our buildings are getting older, although we are doing our best to maintain and care for these important facilities.
The Provo City School District Board of Education first began to consider rebuilding PHS on vacant district property West of Geneva Road mainly because of the complexities and costs surfacing with the current site at the corner of Bulldog and University. The existing 25 acres came with all kinds of restrictions and excess costs that were not known in the initial studies. It was a difficult decision for the board and it took great leadership to press forward. High schools are expensive to build but moving the school to the new site actually was a prudent move given the perspectives of costs, how long it would take to complete the project, program needs, and the ability to accommodate enrollment growth.
I kept thinking throughout the discussions of PHS relocating to the west side that moving locations is actually (figuratively) in Provo High School’s DNA. The school has relocated several times over its very long history. Now, the beautiful new building, designed by FFKR Architects and being built by Westland Construction, is set to accommodate growth through the potential addition of a fourth academic wing, should such a need arise in the future.
High schools usually take around 2.5 years to build, from start to finish, but with the outstanding and meticulous efforts of our architect and contractor, this school will allow for the move to occur precisely two years after the work began. And while the 43 acres on which the new high school sits is still a little less than the norm for large high schools, the site has been well-designed to accommodate all of the varied programs and activities of a comprehensive high school. And, nearly 5,000 “geo-piers” are securing the school in place, despite soil conditions that come with being near Utah Lake. In the words of one of the senior construction workers, “The floods may come but the school will still be here.”
With such a long history of being a fixture in the Provo community, we are working on ways to truly honor Provo High School’s past as we take occupancy of the new building beginning in August 2018. A school/community committee has been formed, called the “Legacy Committee” whose purpose is, as noted earlier, to honor and connect with the school’s rich history. We also plan to provide tours of the new building in August, both just before and after the new building officially opens for school.
I am grateful to have played a role in supporting Provo High School in this new building, and also in an assortment of program-related issues. Even though I wholly endorse the notion of activities and athletics for students, my main hope is that the academic program at Provo High School is everything it can and should be. I recall as a teacher many years ago at Woods Cross High School, and later as an administrator at East High School, knowing about and competing with Provo High School (and Timpview) in countless inter-school events. I admit at the time that the excellence emanating from Provo was intimidating. Academically, both schools were juggernauts, but also had dominant athletic teams and activity programs.
I am pushing both Provo and Timpview to be the top two high schools in the state. The good news is that significant improvements are already in evidence at Provo High School. In recent years, ACT scores, graduation rates, and AP participation/pass rates are all increasing. PSAT participation will include all Juniors and Sophomores starting in 2018-2019. We expect a continuing positive trend in these and other academic indicators. Everything else aside, the academic success of our students must be our top priority.
Yet of course, Provo High School is much more than a building. Many years ago in a different state I knew a custodian who joked, “I could keep this school clean if it weren’t for all those darned kids.” We all realize a school is not a school without the students and teachers and all of the people who occupy it. Yes, the facility creates the environment to facilitate teaching and learning. But the people who connect with one another over the years within the school structure is what truly builds the school, and by extension, the community.
With the combination of the new school and dedicated, passionate people, the future of Provo High School is bright. Provo High School is on the path to academic excellence, and due to the support of the community, the new building can now be a true partner with teachers and students in creating optimal learning for our students. It is exciting to watch the continued progress of Provo High School.