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South Valley Journal

New high school boasts A-list faculty

Jan 29, 2019 02:47PM ● By Jet Burnham

Choir Director Kelly DeHaan and Dance Company Director Zoey White share their enthusiasm for starting programs from scratch. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Mike Kochevar, principal at the new Mountain Ridge High School, opening this fall in Herriman, hopes students will be excited to enroll in the new school.

“I think that we offer what a lot of other schools offer, but coming to a new school is exciting,” he said. “You're starting new traditions. I think that's why a lot of people will come.” 

The faculty is also a draw for students.

“I feel like I’ve done some great hiring here — I’ve hired some quality people,” Kochevar said.

On Jan. 2, Herriman residents and prospective students had an opportunity at an open house to meet the coaches and heads of departments that have been hired so far.

The community is singing the praises of the choir director, award-winning Kelly DeHaan, who currently is choir director at West Jordan High School, music director at Hale Centre Theatre as well as countless other roles in the music community.

DeHaan has grown the WJHS program and is excited to do the same at Mountain Ridge.

“I’m ready for a new chapter,” he said. “The buzz is good. People seem really happy about it.”

All four choirs at MRHS will be filled by audition only. DeHaan realizes this could be intimidating for students.

“They don’t really know me, and they don’t know my brand, so it’s a risk for them to come out and sing for me,” he said. “I’m glad for nights like tonight where they can come get to know me and see that I’m happy and nice.”

DeHaan plans to get to know the community as he begins new traditions that fit their expectations for the new program.

“It’s going to be fabulous; I can guarantee that,” he said.

Drumroll please … MRHS’s band director is James Densley.

“My goal is to continue the tradition of excellence that this school district has when it comes to performing arts—specifically band,” said Densley. “There are some really great band programs in Jordan District, and my plan is to be one of them, to fit in with them and not to be the afterthought band in the district.”

Densley’s main focus will be creating an awesome experience for first-year students.

“I want to set a precedence and build a foundation for everything that’s going to come after it — something that will last a long time,” he said.

Densely plans to hit the ground running, or rather,  marching. This summer, he will hold a weeklong marching band camp to prepare students for fall competitions as well as a Fourth of July parade performance.

“We’re trying to start out as big as we can,” he said. “We’re trying to get as much going as we can the first year. The numbers will probably be small, but in terms of what we’re offering, it will be pretty much the same as most high schools.”

Kochevar said MRHS will have the same sports teams and performing arts opportunities as high school students are used to.

Athletic coaches who have been hired so far include football coach Mike Meifu, wrestling coach Mitch Stevens, boys basketball coach Scott Briggs, girls basketball coach Kenzie Newton, soccer coach Eric Arthur, drill coach Blaikly Lever and cheer coach Kory Uyetake.

Zoey White, dance company director, believes it is a great opportunity for students to be involved in building a new team at a new school.

“I am excited for kids to be invested in this new school,” she said. “Dance Company is really going to cater to that. I really want us to have school pride as well as be invested in community.”

Students will be able to take a variety of dance classes as well as audition for performing dance teams. White looks forward to helping students learn to do things they didn’t think they could.

“I want kids to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she said, reflecting her hope that nontraditional students will give dance classes a try — they might just find that they love it.

Students with a love for film and broadcasting should be ready for lights, camera, action this fall because Leslie Vawdrey, who currently runs the state award-winning broadcast news at Copper Hills High School, is bringing her skills and enthusiasm to MRHS.

Students will have access to brand-new equipment to film with, a huge studio to film in and a giant video wall in the commons area to project their finished products.

The school’s state-of-the-art broadcast studio includes a production set with a professional news anchor desk (a hand-me-down from KSL’s set), a casual interview set, a full computer lab and a large green screen.

Vawdrey has already asked woodshop instructor Richard Minor to build a new custom anchor desk and set for the program. Minor’s current students (at WJHS) regularly build such projects; this year, they built leaderboards for school teams and tables for the Family and Consumer Science’s restaurant.

However, Minor worries if many seniors choose to stay at their current high schools instead of coming to MRHS, there may not be enough experienced students to handle these kinds of projects.

“I know seniors don’t want to leave their high school, which will affect the talent pool for all classes and teams here,” he said.

However, Minor felt good after the open house, where he was able to speak with students and parents about the new school.

“I love that they got to see what we do here and meet our teachers,” he said. “I know we have the people in place to be one of the greatest high schools in the state.”

Sydney Barney will be a sophomore this fall, starting her high school career at MRHS. After meeting the teachers and coaches at the open house, she said she was most excited about the choir, volleyball and theater programs.