A Brief History of South Salem High School
Salem Second High School Opened in 1954
In the mid 1950’s Oregon’s capital city, as a result of an ever-expanding population, conceived of and gave birth to a second high school. September of 1954 marked the grand opening of South Salem High School. Prior to that date, considerable construction, planning, and imagination were needed. The new school’s location was narrowed to two choices: the location of the South Salem Fred Meyer store, which at that time was out-of town pasture land for sheep, and the ultimate choice, the Church Street location. Carl “Pappy” Aschenbrenner, who was to be the first principal, spent much of that time working with Salem High School juniors, planning such things as a school mascot, school colors, and extracurricular activities to be created. The first year the student body of 800 plus was made up of students attending Leslie and Walker Junior High Schools. Faculty that first year transferred from Salem High School, from then on called North Salem High School. The opening day of school was filled with excitement for students and staff with a new building, a new administration, a new student body, and most importantly, new ideas.
School year 1954-55 was full of firsts: South Salem Saxons were state co-champions for football; expanded curriculum included a boys’ cooking class; a boys’ Pep Club called the Rowdy Dowds; and a boys’ rally squad. Other significant events included the naming of the yearbook, Sword and Shield, and the newspaper, The Clypian. The school’s fight song and alma mater were also created.
In the school year 1958-59, South Salem High School had its first National Merit Scholar, the track team won the State Track Championship, South had its first athlete named to the All-State Basketball Team, and the student body was awarded its first Sportsmanship Award at the State Basketball Tournament.
By 1960, South was moving into adolescence and suffering growing pains. The school was becoming overcrowded, as was North Salem, and it was obvious that a third high school was needed in Salem. South adjusted by scheduling “early bird” classes that began at 7:30 a.m. There were other changes as well: study halls held in the cafeteria and two lunch periods were needed to accommodate a student body that numbered 1,964. With the greater school population, an expanded faculty included 89 by 1966 with two full-time Vice-Principals.
Noteworthy achievements for the school in the early 1960’s included the naming of the outstanding speaker for the state of Oregon, Oregon’s winner of the Westinghouse Talent Search, and South’s Girl of the Year was a Presidential Scholar. In the field of athletics, the cross-country runners were State Champions in 1960, and the golf team won the State Championship in 1964.
In October of 1964, South student population soared to 2,090 for grades 10-12, but the opening of McNary High in the fall of 1965 allowed South’s enrollment to level off at 1,986. For the third consecutive year there were early bird as well as late classes; taking care of the building required ten custodians and two matrons. The 750 sophomores, the largest class in the school’s history, made history in another way by electing as their class president the first female to be elected a class president at South. The year of 1968 saw South’s speech and debate teams earning national recognition. The year 1969 was memorable for at least two reasons: there were four sets of twins in the class of 1969 and Oklahoma!, the Broadway musical opened as the first in a series of school musical productions. In addition, the girls’ tennis team won the State Championship.
By the 1970’s, the school had put adolescence behind and by the end of the decade celebrated its silver anniversary. “New” and “change” were operational words during these years. One reason for the many changes was that population growth once more forced the building of another high school. South’s student numbers reached 1,935 for three grades in 1971 and “fell” to 1,175 in October 1972 when Sprague High School opened.
There were many personnel changes as a result of population growth and retirements. Most notably was the retirement of Carl “Pappy” Aschenbrenner, South’s first principal, who was replaced by Wes Ediger in the fall of 1972.
In 1974, a new process for registration called arena scheduling was instituted along with a different form of student government. No longer was the student council comprised of homeroom representatives; instead, there were eight standing committees, plus three ASB officers: president, vice-president, and secretary. In the late 1970’s as South prepared to become a four-year high school, much energy was devoted to a curriculum for ninth graders. Changes were also seen in other areas. A new spirit group called “Mat Rats” was formed in support of the wrestling team; the names of the choral groups were changed in response to Federal Law which required that group names not pertain to only one sex; and P.E. classes became co-ed. In athletics, the big news was the State Football Championship in 1971 and the Girls’ Basketball State Championship in 1976.
In sharp contrast to the early years of the 1950’s and 1960’s when the same four or five people served as administrators, the 1980’s seemed to have revolving doors on those offices. Principal Wes Ediger moved to North Salem High in 1981 after fifteen years at South, and he was replaced by Dan Johnson. The Administrative Staff became a Management Team with a curriculum assistant principal, disciplinary assistant principals, an athletic director, and an activities director.
Continuing to adjust to enrollment, educational reform, and social changes, the school introduced a new tardy policy and piloted a registration process that emulated the college system of having students enroll directly with the teachers of the classes they had chosen. Changes also involved a more formal Homecoming celebration starting in 1985, with the queen being announced and crowned at an all-school assembly rather than at the football game. The 1980’s continued South’s athletic excellence with the State Golf Championship in 1984.
The class of 1986, still glorying in being honored for excellence, moved into the last decade of the twentieth century.
In 1990 Dan Johnson left South to become part of a new district organization with five administrative areas each arranged around a high school and its area feeder schools. Johnson was followed by George Dyer, who became the fourth principal in South’s thirty-six years.
In 1994, an innovative remodeling of the program for freshmen began with the formation of the Freshman House Program, which had all freshmen in small “house” groups with a cadre of teachers who taught core classes and cooperatively counseled the students to make the transition to high school easier for them. The program was activated in 1995.
By the end of 1996, the staff of South Salem High School included 24 former Saxons. The student government was once again reorganized to allow more student involvement; Fine Arts Week was revived in 1993; Channel One, an educational news program, was shown daily; and a reorganized daily schedule was introduced to encourage student participation in clubs and activities. Each Wednesday morning a time called Academic Seminary was included.
Also in 1996, the school was again showing the results of seam bursting enrollment; there were two lunch hours because the cafeteria could not hold enough students at one time. Many students took advantage of the open campus to eat lunch at neighborhood fast food places, and others began eating in the halls near their lockers and outside classrooms. The first six years of the 1990’s evidenced little decline in the honors and awards won by Saxons. The 1990 boys’ golf team won the State Championship, as did the boys’ baseball team. Channel 8 television declared South Salem a “Super School,” the 1996 choir was named outstanding choir in the state for the second consecutive year, and the boys’ basketball team won the State Championship.
The showing of Saxon pride signified the 1996-97 school year with the reintroduction of “Saxon Man” and “Saxon Woman.” South also introduced a unique academic program with the implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB), a challenging program recognized as one of the most academic a high school can offer. South Salem High School is one of only twelve high schools in Oregon offering the IB program. As a gift to the school, members of the class of 1997 presented bricks to Principal Dyer after receiving their diplomas at graduation. The bricks were used to rebuild the sign in front of the school.
The decade of the 1990’s closed with many significant activities, awards, and changes. A Women’s Choir and Chamber Orchestra were additions to the music curriculum, a rejuvenated weight and fitness program was brought back to life with the expansion of the existing facility, South students set an all-time record collecting 150 pints of blood at the annual blood drive, the Symphonic Choir won the State Championship, and the swim team was recognized as the Oregon School Activities Association’s All State Academic Team.
One more significant change South High experienced was the retirement of George Dyer at the conclusion of the 1998-99 school year. The selection of Kris Olsen, the fifth principal in the school’s forty-six year history, ushered in a new era as the school entered a new millennium.
This leadership change brought with it renewed attention to the traditions that have made South High the institution that it has become. One such tradition, revitalized in the fall of 1999, was the “Spirit Bell.” The old bell was cleaned, sanded, and repainted in preparation for the opening pep assembly in the 1999-2000 school year. Once again, the “Spirit Bell” rings to signify the scoring of a touchdown at home football games at South High.
In addition to the new administration’s emphasis on school spirit, a new program addressing the student-school connection called Saxon Focus Groups was instituted during Academic Seminar, and in preparation for the annual “civil war” football game against cross-town rival North Salem, the Mayor’s Trophy was brought out from retirement to be presented to the victor by then mayor, Mike Swaim.
South High and the Saxons entered the 2000-01 school year, a year that saw the graduation of the first class of the new millennium, the entrance of a freshman class that will be the 50th class to graduate from South High, and a year affected by significant remodeling to the school and its programs.
As a result of a 4.6 million dollar capital improvement project, greater than the total original cost of building South High in 1954, the South High campus finally had a suitable student commons and enclosed all-weather courtyard to address the needs of its school community. In addition to the commons and courtyard, three new instructional technology labs, a new main office and guidance center, a remodeled library, a new special services suite, remodeled band and choir facilities, improved ventilation in each of the science labs, and other infrastructure improvements ushered this great institution into the new millennium.
The excitement of the opening of the 2001-02 school year could not equal the relief expressed by the school community that the remodeling of the previous two years was finally completed. The opening of the school’s new student commons and all-weather courtyard, spaces greatly needed for the past several decades, greeted the student body upon their arrival to school in early September.
As a result of the opening of these new student spaces, the administration was able to institute a closed campus for freshmen. Although many would have preferred the option of leaving campus at lunch, most accepted the new practice as a right-of-passage and joined their peers in the new commons for lunch, socializing, and a much-needed break from the rain and gloom of Oregon’s long, wet winter.
Another new addition to the South High community was the selection of Ms. Lara Tiffin as the school’s new Athletic Director. Ms. Tiffin, a former student, teacher, and coach, took over as the school’s fifth Athletic Director and the Salem Keizer School District’s first female Athletic Director.
The early years of this new millennium brought with it much success for the Saxons. The choir brought home four consecutive state championships (1999-2001), we won the Academic Decathlon State Championship two consecutive years, we continued with our tradition of holding the Director’s Trophy, and we graduated the first class of International Baccalaureate Diploma candidates.
Much anticipation awaited our school community as it prepared for the opening of West Salem High School in the fall of 2002, the sixth large comprehensive high school in the district. Significant decisions were made throughout the 2001-02 school year with respect to a new common high school schedule, choice-of-school decisions made by each of the students currently living in West Salem who are now attending South, and the process of transitioning students currently attending Sprague who will be attending South High beginning in September of 2002.
As school began in September 2002, South’s enrollment dropped by approximately 300 students to 1695. Although many of the students living west of the Willamette River chose to attend the new high school, several decided to complete their high school career at either North or South Salem.
Additional activities during the 2002-03 school year included plans and preparation for South Salem High School’s silver anniversary. The Saxon Hall of Fame was under development to induct its first group of alumni in the fall of 2003. South also welcomed a new addition to our campus, the new stadium bleachers to replace those original to the school, circa 1954.
Our Vision: All students graduate and are prepared for a successful life.
Our Mission: South Salem High School is a community of learners who value integrity; high academic standards; respect for self and others; and a positive involvement in our school, community and the world.