Dr. Arganbright tribute and interview


Lauren Knudson

The name Jerry Arganbright has resonated through the halls of West High for longer than most students can remember. It’s a name that, from the moment students cross the school’s threshold as freshmen, is regarded as a staple, a piece of the school as much as any layer of foundation or steadfast staircase. It’s all too easy to take for granted something like a name; however, in light of Dr. Arganbright’s recent decision to retire from his position as principal of West High School, has given students a much-needed opportunity to reflect on how much more Arganbright has done for the school than offer it a passing reference his moniker. West Side Story sat down with Dr. A to discuss his time at West and present a rare look into this man’s reflections on all he has seen and done for the school in these past 31 years.

“My first day here was a bit overwhelming … I remember eating lunch with some students the first day just to try to start the process of better knowing the culture and personality of the building. And then find ways that I could help improve the school in whatever ways possible,” said Dr. Jerry Arganbright, reflecting on his beginnings at 2901 Melrose Ave.

After this school year, Arganbright will retire as principal.

Arganbright became a principal because he believed the “position offered more opportunities for influence and impact on a school.” After several years of being principal at a small high school outside of Lincoln, NE, Arganbright earned the job as principal and for 31 years Arganbright has been the respected face of the Trojans. However, the school has changed a lot over his time here.

“When I came here, the school was 15 years old and it didn’t really have what I call a very strong high school community. There were five municipalities that encompass West High’s geographical boundaries…and so we had a diverse geographical area, but [in] those communities there really wasn’t a strong bond attached to the high school. Then you think of today and all the pride and connection we have with our high school; I think it’s been very rewarding to see the high school community come together.”

As West High’s presence has grown in the community, Arganbright has grown into his administrative role, as well. Jason Schuchert ’88 was a freshman during Arganbright’s first year and his daughter Anna Schuchert ’15 will graduate during Arganbright’s last year.

“He’s become comfortable being a leader not only for this school but for other administrators … [going from] being the new guy to being a mentor is not something that happens overnight. You kind of have to grow into it, so I think he’s comfortable giving back now based on all the experience that he’s gained over the years,” Jason said.

Since the day Arganbright first strolled the halls as principal, the school has produced over 50 athletic state championships, been awarded recognition from the Grammy Foundation, and has been ranked the best public high school in the state of Iowa by Niche. His leadership has shaped the school into an admirable example of success illustrated in the motto he created: “Where Excellence iS a Tradition.” Arganbright hopes for for the school to continue this excellence.

“When you think of all the ACT scores and national merit finalists and all the academic work that young people do, I would certainly like to see that continue,” Arganbright said. His goals, however, expand beyond academic achievement alone.

“I think our building needs to be renovated,” he said. “It’s 47 years old.”

Without a doubt, Arganbright says the best part of his job is the relationship he develops with students during their four years.

“The most enjoyable thing is watching you guys come as ninth graders, and in four years to see your voices change, bodies change, and your minds change. It’s really gratifying to see what happens. You only have high school once. Someday you will appreciate this, more than you do today … I can clearly remember so many things that happened to me in high school. It’s just the pleasure and joy of seeing young people pass through these important four years of life.”

With countless achievements in Arganbright’s career, it is needless to say that the new principal has some large shoes to fill. With a search already underway for the new leader, Arganbright has some key advice.

“Never forget that this is a student-centered building,” he said. “I like the climate in this building. I like that fact that we don’t have any more rules than we need. In my view, students are the main cog of what goes on here, and the new [principal] shouldn’t forget that.”

Arganbright says that staying in the community and not being involved with West High would be challenging and “drive him nuts.” After this school year comes to a close, Arganbright and his wife will move to the Kansas City area to be closer to family.

“It’s been a very difficult decision, as you can imagine, just being here this many years and stepping away,” Arganbright said. “But the timing seemed to work for me because the new principal could come in and have a few years before the new high school opened.”

However, Arganbright’s influence on the school will last forever. For the class of 2015 and beyond, Arganbright says, “Love whatever vocation you pursue. Money is nice, but it’s so important that you have passion. You don’t want work to be work, you want it to be something that you truly enjoy.”

“And I like that motto,” he adds, pointing to a sign in his office. “Work hard and be nice.”

Thanks to all the teachers who where in the video. From all staff and students to Dr. Arganbright, “we will miss you.”

Looking to share your memory of Dr. Arganbright? You can do that here.