By Eduardo Barraza
September 26, 2016
(Gilbert, Arizona) –– Just as in a relay race each runner must hold the baton handed off to him by the previous runner, Gilbert High School Principal Christopher Stroud has been running for the last five years holding in his hands an educational baton, one that has been passed on for generations of school leaders throughout the last century.
The baton represents the huge responsibility of managing a school such as Gilbert High, which will reach its 100thgraduating class when the Class of 2017 graduates in May.
Gilbert High was Gilbert's first high school, and was possibly founded approximately 15 years into the 20th century, around a decade and a half after what would become the Town of Gilbert started as an Arizona Eastern Railway expansion in 1902.
The largely farming community named after William "Bobby" Gilbert saw its first high school graduating class in 1918, but the exact year when the school began remains a mystery.
“They don’t know exactly when this high school started, nobody seems to know the answer,” said Stroud. “The first graduating class was in 1918; you can presume that they were in class prior to that.”
Gilbert High sits on the same town that during the 1910s and 1920s was known as the “Hay Shipping Capital of the World."
“The school sits on what it’s used to be farmland,” said Stroud. “This community of farmers started this school long, long time ago to help their kids have a better life than they did. And that’s what everybody wants for their kids.”
The new and the shiny
As traditional values and contemporary challenges intersect at the educational cornerstone of Gilbert High, Stroud ponders on what it means to run holding Gilbert High’s baton on a 21st century track.
“I am a big believer in tradition being a roadmap for us,” said Stroud. “I think traditions are important. We can’t forget our roots, what this community was in those times, but this can’t be a straitjacket. We have to be able to move forward and serve the needs of our kids in the 21st century.”
Accordingly, Stroud said that the school is constantly looking at its own processes and putting students first in the management team’s decisions.
“You never can stay the same in this business, because kids aren’t the same. Every year they come with a different set of challenges and opportunities, and we need to be ready to grasp that.”
Gilbert High offers what Stroud calls pretty unique programs, including a trademark agricultural studies program, one he says no other school in Gilbert or even the West Coast has.
The agricultural class teaches students to slaughter an animal in order to learn butchering skills. Stroud says there are only two or three programs like this in the United States.
“This goes back to when this was an agricultural community,” said Stroud. “This building sits on where Neely farms were, the Neely family owned much of this area.”
At the same time, Gilbert High students can take an automotive program where they learn the newest technology in motor vehicle maintenance and repair, in a car dealership-class environment.
Both the agricultural and automotive programs are representative of the balance Gilbert High tries to maintain between traditional and contemporary economies where students will find jobs as they continue their path into college.
Little part, big story
As Gilbert High seeks to remain true to its roots and serve the needs of its community, the challenges technology poses for new generations of students who attend this high school create a constant demand for innovation, and Stroud seems to very aware of that.
“It’s our job now to really get kids ready for jobs that may not exist right now but that will exist in 20 years,” said Stroud. “We live in a world that sometimes is always chasing the new and the shiny.”
For Stroud, student success does not consist only in maintaining school traditions and tapping into new technological challenges, but also in instilling in students the basic civic values that produce good citizens.
“Some [students] are going to become doctors, lawyers or business owners, but almost everyone of them is going to be a citizen of this country,” said Stroud. “So, how are we preparing them to join us in our society, and to make their own mark and contribution in society. Tigers have been doing that for a long, long time. I am humble and blessed to be one little part of that big story.”