More than 900 students passed a backdrop of black horses grazing and the San Tan Mountains nearby on Wednesday as they entered the new Eddie Basha High School in Chandler.
Basha High, at Val Vista Drive and Riggs Road, is the second high school to open in the Chandler Unified School District in the past five years.
Overall, about 25,000 students returned to classes in the Chandler district on Wednesday. The new high school is further evidence of Chandler’s status as the fourth-fastest growing city in the nation as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau this month. Chandler’s population now is about 202,000.
Students in the ninth and 10th grades — the only two grades in place so far — entered all sides of the new Basha High, its layout reminiscent of a community college forming a fortress of tan buildings around the students. Not far away, wooden frames of new houses to accommodate more residents take shape.
"It’s pretty amazing," said Superintendent Camille Casteel, who came to the district as a teacher in 1971. "We’ve grown to be a fairly large school district, yet we’re still trying to maintain a small district atmosphere. It’s been fun to watch it grow."
Basha High, named for Arizona grocery store magnate and education supporter Eddie Basha, will hit capacity at 2,200 students — about 1,000 students short of the average East Valley high school population. The school’s first class was in place last year at a temporary location. The Santan K-8 Campus near Basha also opened its elementary side for the first time to about 560 kindergarten through sixthgraders. The junior high portion opened last year.
"People moving out this way are looking for a new neighborhood that has everything that they want — they’re looking to establish a community with homes they design and with everything they’re looking for," said principal Kristine Marchiando.
Alex Nibali, 15, a sophomore, was excited about helping to establish a new
tradition. "It’s kind of cool to know you’ll be in the first graduating class," he said.
Charlette Russell is among the parents who are just moving into the area.
"When I first moved in a year ago, there were so many empty spaces," Russell said as she dropped son, Jonathan, 5, off at Santan for his first day at the school.
Within five years, a fourth high school is expected to fill out the district’s 88-square miles.
Growth in the Southeast Valley has resulted in several large high schools opening during the past decade. Chandler’s second high school, Hamilton High, opened in 1998. The Gilbert Unified School District opened Mesquite High School in 1998 and Desert Ridge High School in 2002. Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High School opened in 1996, and Mesa’s Skyline High School opened in 1999.