Principal ready to ‘give the keys to the kids’ in new West Ada school

West Ada educator Cliff Rice is about to open his second school.

Rice taught in the inaugural year at Mountain View High, eventually becoming the school’s principal. This time, he’ll lead the opening at Owyhee High School.

“We have the opportunity to start new traditions,” Rice said. “I want to give the keys to the kids.”

Owyhee High, the West Ada School District’s newest high school, will start the 2021-2022 school year with about 1,430 students from Eagle, Meridian and Rocky Mountain high schools. Seniors who live in Owyhee’s boundary had the option to graduate at their respective high schools this year. Incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors will mostly transfer from the other West Ada schools.

Owyhee High’s planned capacity is 1,800 students, with a maximum of 2,000, making it West Ada’s smallest high school. Rocky Mountain, the district’s (and state’s) biggest, enrolls just over 2,400 students. Meridian High, currently the district’s smallest, has about 1,900 students.

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West Ada spokeswoman Char Jackson said enrollment is difficult to predict but they are expecting the school’s senior class to have about 105 students, while the freshman class could have 520.

Owyhee High sits on 70 acres and has dedicated classrooms for career and technical education (CTE) classes, like welding and cooking. Students from Eagle and Rocky Mountain high schools will be able to take some CTE classes at Owyhee. A project already awaits the school’s CTE students: building a press box for the baseball and softball fields.

Creating a culture

While the first group of incoming students will be a mix of transfers from other schools, Rice is not worried about creating the culture of the new school.

Owyhee High has logos and the “Storm” nickname. Rice said he’ll let the students select the school’s mascot.

Rice added that it might be easier to create a new school culture in the first year after COVID-19 disrupted the 2020-2021 school year.

“There was nothing normal about the past year. So we have the opportunity to give the kids a fresh start,” he said.

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A veteran presence

Rice recruited longtime Idaho educator Russ Wright to teach biology and coach baseball.

Wright spent the past two years as the Fruitland High athletic director¬†following over a decade of coaching baseball and teaching biology at the school. He’s also coached and taught at Payette and Minico high schools and at Treasure Valley Community College.

Wright led Minico to eight state baseball tournament runs in 10 years. He took over at Fruitland in 2006 and led the Grizzlies to eight state championships, including four consecutive titles from 2014 to 2017 and 12 district titles. He was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012, one of 13 high school coaches to receive the honor.

Despite retiring from teaching and coaching two years ago, Wright said he couldn’t refuse coming to a new high school.

“How often do you get to do that?” Wright said. “Everyone who enters this school is coming from somewhere else. Me included. Most teachers don’t get the chance to go to a brand new school.”

Wright said he anticipates some growing pains for the school, including for himself moving from a high school of 500 students to one four times the size.

When it comes to school culture, Wright said the first step is the strength of the principal.

“The tone is going to be set from him down to the staff,” Wright said of his new boss.

About Nik Streng

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