Editor’s note: This is the second in a three part series looking at the 50 years of Meigs High School. While it will not be a comprehensive look at the history of the school (that would take many, many more articles), it will provide a look at some of the highlights, changes and happenings over the 50 year history of the school.
ROCKSPRINGS — There have been many changes in the region, nation and world over the past 50 years, and while there has been change at Meigs High School as well, there has been much more tradition and consistency over the years.
After the combining of Middleport, Pomeroy and Rutland high schools into Meigs High School at the start of the 1967-68 school year, the students settled in to their new building for the 1969-70 school year.
While students spend only a few short years in high school, many of the teachers, staff and administrators have spent many more years of their time in that building or even in one classroom.
In its 50 years, Meigs High School has been under the leadership of only six different principals.
James Diehl became the first Meigs High School principal at the start of the 1967-68 school year before the students were even in the same building. Diehl brought the high school through the transition from separate schools to being under the same roof and ultimately into the Meigs High School building we know now.
In June 1969, the Meigs Local Board of Education recognized Diehl for his work during the consolidation.
The Congratulatory Resolution read as follows,
Whereas, you, James A. Diehl, were Principal of the Meigs High School during the time of the consolidation of the three high schools and during the time they were all housed together at one site for the first time, and
Whereas, you worked under crowded conditions, and
Whereas, you made it possible for everyone to attend the Graduation exercises who wished to do so,
Whereas, you did make arrangements for an ideal commencement setting for the first combined graduation of the three former high schools.
Now therefore, be it resolved, by the Meigs Local School District Board of Education:
Section 1. Does hereby commend you, James A. Diehl, for the above named reasons.
Section 2. That the Clerk be authorized to send you a copy of this resolution as an expression of our appreciation for the excellent manner in which you supervised the graduating seniors, the Meigs High School Band, and all the others who participated in graduation exercises.
Diehl would continue to serve as the principal of Meigs High School through the 1981-82 school year.
James Miller served as the Meigs High School principal for five years after Diehl, with his final year as principal coming in the 1986-87 school year.
Fenton Taylor, who had served as the school’s assistant principal, took over as principal beginning with the 1987-88 school year, a position he would hold through the 1997-98 school year. Taylor’s 11 year tenure as principal is second only to Diehl’s 15 years as principal at the school. Taylor was also a coach in the district, including an assistant on the first Meigs High School football team.
Dennis Eichinger served as principal for the next 9 years, going from the 1998-99 school year to the 2006-07 school year when he left to take a position with Washington State Community College. He had been with Meigs Local School District since 1993 in an administrative role.
In 2007, Steve Ohlinger became the first Meigs High School graduate to be principal at the school. Ohlinger held the position until the end of the 2015-16 school year when he left to become superintendent at Eastern Local Schools. Ohlinger had been the Meigs Middle School Assistant Principal before becoming high school principal.
Travis Abbott then became the high school’s sixth principal and is currently in his second year in the role. Abbott is a 1996 Meigs graduate and returned to Meigs High School after graduating college, spending 14 years as a social studies teacher. He left for one year before returning to become principal.
It is not only those in the administration who have committed many years of their career to the school, but teachers as well.
Jim Oliphant is one such teacher.
Oliphant is currently in his 35th year of teaching at Meigs High School. Not only has he remained at the school for that length of time, he has taught in the same classroom, just around the corner from the main entrance for all 35 of those years.
The veteran teacher recently sat down with the Sentinel to share a bit about his time at Meigs, as well as reflect on the school over the years.
Coming to MHS in 1983, Oliphant explained that the area where the school is located was much different than it is now.
Physically, the four-lane ended right in front of the school, with drivers turning either on to Pomeroy Pike or Rocksprings Road. Then it was only the high school and Salisbury Elementary in the area.
Over the years, the bypass was constructed extending the four-lane out to Route 7 at Five Points. With the extension of the road eventually came development which now includes Meigs Middle School, Rio Grande Meigs Center, Mark Porter GM, Holzer ER, Hopewell Health Center, Meigs EMS, the Emergency Operations Center and MedFlight base.
In addition to the physical changes to the area, there has also been a decrease in the number of students in the school. Oliphant said that in the 1980s when he started teaching there was around 800-850 students in the school, now, there is 500-550 per year.
While there is the decline in numbers, the types of students have remained the same. The students have varies interests with athletics, band, vocational classes and many others.
“The band numbers have always been good,” said Oliphant, giving credit to longtime band director Toney Dingess for the band remaining the same size despite the student population decline.
“There has always been a challenge with low income and high unemployment, but that is the nature of Appalachia,” said Oliphant of teaching in the area.
Overall, Oliphant said the kids have been very polite and respectful over the years.
Now, after years of teaching, Oliphant is teaching the children of some of his former students. Looking at a wooden desk at the front of his classroom which has the names of many students on it, Oliphant pointed to several spots where recent students had signed next to the name of their mother or father, who had previously been in the same class.
With the mix of younger teachers and veteran teachers, Oliphant has had the opportunity to work with his former students, including Principal Travis Abbott, but for the first time is working with a teacher who’s father he taught. Oliphant noted that he did not teach co-worker Katie Corbitt, but did teach her father.
“I have not taught any grandchildren yet,” said Oliphant.
Among the key changes over the past 35 years, Oliphant noted technology, as well as the changes in teaching standards and the tests required by the state for students.
In his first years, videos could only be shown on reel-to-reel projectors, then VHS and DVD, leading to now where things can be found online and shown easily. The types of technology the students use has also changed, as in the early years of teaching each classroom would only have one calculator due to the cost. Now, calculators are on phones which nearly every student carries.
Asked if there were particular things that stood out over the years, Oliphant noted a fire in the third floor storage bathroom which caused little damage, snow and flood days, and a strike in the 1987-88 school year. It was during the strike that Oliphant met his future wife, Kim, who taught at Rutland Elementary.
“We were married a year to the day after our first date,” said Oliphant.
With his wife’s family from the Meigs area and her having gone to school at Meigs, they remained in the area and it became home.
“People here are very gracious. I am grateful for the support,” said Oliphant of the Meigs community.
There have been a lot more good than bad, said Oliphant of his days at Meigs High School.
“I’ve seen a lot of football, basketball, homecomings,” said Oliphant. He noted the bulletin board inside his classroom door which holds the senior pictures of many students from over the years.
One of the items that Oliphant has saved from his early years of teaching is a character drawing created by 1989 graduate Chad Carson of many of the teachers at the school at the time. Oliphant explained each of the drawings and why they were depicted that way.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.