More than 3,000 Chandler High School students shed the doldrums of a short summer and woke up for their first day of school on July 22. It wasn't anything overly unique for the students, all of whom have gone through the pomp-and-circumstance for at least a decade, but that Monday morning kicked off a milestone for Chandler High — the start of its 100th school year.
“This is truly unique for Arizona,” said new principal Larry Rother. “Not many people in Arizona can say they’re at the helm of a high school that’s 100 years old.”
First opened prior to the 1914-15 school year with four teachers and 19 freshmen, Chandler High has undergone a lot of changes in the ensuing years. According to the school’s website, classes were first taught at Chandler Grammar School, but Chandler High became something of a vagabond after the first year, moving around from local churches and even businesses until a proper campus was built in 1922.
The school has resided at the campus along Arizona Avenue ever since, although Chandler High has undergone a few renovations and expansions — it acquired much of the neighborhood space to the south — over the years to meet the demands of a growing city population. According to the school’s website, the only remnants of Chandler High’s early (and smaller) years are the original campus, dubbed “old main,” and the gym built in 1939. Then again, it can be tough to tell what parts are new and what parts are old, as Rother said the newer segments were built to incorporate the aesthetics of the older ones.
“As we added buildings, we mimicked the architecture of the 1920s,” he said. “When you walk through the building, it feels like you’re walking through a building that’s 100 years old.”
Chandler High has had its fair share of prominent alums, a list highlighted by grocery-store magnate and Arizona institution Eddie Basha Jr., as well as athletes like NFL first-round draft picks Adam Archuleta, Cameron Jordan and Dion Jordan. Then there are the Chandler High legacies, like the Knox family with 23 members who’ve graduated from the high school. A 24th member is set to graduate in two years.
“We’re very proud of it,” said family member Barbara Knox.
Knox, who graduated from Chandler High alongside her husband, Norman, in 1951, said a prominent factor in the family’s decision to send generation after generation to the high school is the quality of the education. She has a more direct connection with the school’s educational process than others — she said her father taught at Chandler High after her family moved to Arizona in the late ‘40s, and her daughter-in-law works for the school district — but the school has maintained a strong academic reputation throughout its existence. U.S. News and World Report recently rated Chandler High the 25th best high school in the state, and it earned an “A” ranking in the 2011-12 AZ Learns ratings designated by the Arizona Department of Education.
Knox attributes the academic success to history, from the history of the city itself — founder A.J. Chandler placed a heavy emphasis on education — to the tradition of recruiting excellent teachers and keeping administrators for several years. The latter trend started back in 1920 when Fred Austin served as principal and superintendent for 17 years.
“A lot of schools have changed their superintendent, but Chandler has not,” she said.
Chandler High will embark on its 100th school year with a new principal in Rother whose task is to keep the academic traditions alive and to help ensure families like Knox’s continue to graduate family members through the school.
On her end, Knox said watching the school evolve and seeing many family members graduate for the last 60 years has been a pleasure.
“It’s been a real thrill for me to come here,” she said.
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