Granite Park Junior High School celebrates 90 years
May 03, 2019 08:59AM
By Bill Hardesty
The Granite Park Junior High School choir performs at the assembly celebrating its 90-year celebration. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty |[email protected]
Does a community make a school or does the school make the community?
Yes to both.
Granite Park Junior High celebrated 90 years of being a school and being part of the community. A student and alumni assembly was held April 16 and a family and community carnival the next day.
Eighth-grade student Guillermo Lopez speaking for the current student body said, “Thank you for a legacy of 90 years and a foundation for the next 90 years.”
Among the attendees was Lucy Bywater who taught at Granite Junior in 1953 and was counselor at Granite Park from 1974 to 1992. She was sitting with Bill Saxton who was a Granite Park teacher from 1961 to 1968 and a counselor from 1968 to 1994.
After performances by the school choir and a performance of the Cottonwood High School drill team, a documentary video was shown. The video was produced by the A-Staff (the film students at Granite Park Junior High School) and is available on YouTube titled, “Granite Park – 90 Years.”
In its 90 years, Granite Park Junior High has had its ups and downs, twists and turns and good times and bad times.
Granite Junior High School was created in 1928. It was located at the south end of Granite High School. However, the building was not completed. So, the ninth graders stayed at Granite High School and the eighth and seventh graders were housed temporary in the old Granite Stake Tabernacle (located where Century 16 movie theater is now).
In 1950, Central Junior High School was open, starting the move away from the Granite High School property. Granite Park Junior High School was opened in 1962 at 450 E. 3700 South (the current location of Lincoln Elementary).
From its opening until the early ’80s, Granite Park Junior High was often described as “fun” and “winners.” However, with a boundary and administration change, the culture of the school changed. The school developed a hard reputation fueled by gang activities.
Fifteen years later, bigger changes happened. Around 1999, Granite District started the musical schools tour. By this time, Central Junior High School had become Central High School, which was an alternative high school. Central High (now known as Granite Connection High School) moved to the old location of Lincoln Elementary at 501 E. 3900 South. Lincoln Elementary moved to the original location of Granite Park Junior High. Granite Park Junior High was moved to the old Central High School location. However, the move required a complete internal renovation of the building. Tim Frost, principal from 1999 to 2002, oversaw the move, but he also realized that with a new building, a new culture needed to be developed.
As an act of courage, Frost realized he wasn’t the guy to do it. “I was too tired,” he offered in the video. Rob McDaniel came in as a mid-year replacement. He is credited with turning the ship around.
“He focused on education. He provided a way for kids to meet their objectives. He focused on individuals,” Guy Marlow, a 19-year school custodian, observed.
Under McDaniel, the school went from a 40 to 50 percent teacher turnover rate and only 7 out of 10 students attending to leading the district in many key indicators. This allowed teachers and administrators to spend less time on behavior and more time teaching students.
Subsequent principals built on his success. Dr. Taran Chun working with the community instituted a vision statement that is still used today – Inspire Students to Dream of College and Beyond. Chun brought in the AVID program and soon everyone was carrying 3-inch organized binders. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a national program to prepare students for college by focusing on writing, reading, critical thinking and organization. In fact, Granite Park Junior is an AVID Demonstration School showing teachers and administrators across the nation how it is done.
Danny Stirland, principal from 2013 to 2017, challenged students and faculty to have 1.5-year academic growth each year. This led Granite Park Junior to be recertified as an AVID demonstration school and test scores being the highest among all secondary schools in the district.
Current Principal Aaron Wilson is carrying on the tradition of Grizzly Pride by having multiple ways for students to find their passion such as guitar, dance company, archery club, film, and gateway to tech to name a few.
At the end of the assembly, Wilson said, “Students, may we all pause to consider what legacy we have seen here today, the bond we share with those in our community, and the value of your education. Think of what you will accomplish in the next 90 years.”
While the community surrounding Granite Park Junior High has changed over the years, a constant is the school’s commitment to it.
Currently, the students represent 35 nations and there are 44 languages spoken. The school is a community center. It has a food pantry, active afterschool programs, and additional resources connecting student’s families to the larger community.
At the family and community carnival, it was typical to see multi-generational families enjoying the musical performances, the rock wall, making slime or beating on the air pressure cannon in the science room.
Granite Park Junior is also a generational experience. Marian Behunin attended Granite Park in 1978. Her daughter, Sierra Carter, attend in 2011.
“I took every art class I could. I helped create the tiles that hang in the art hall,” Carter said with pride.
Marlow, the long-time custodian, summed it up the best, “I love Granite Park.”