10 year anniversary of the FHS Phoenix

10 year anniversary of the FHS Phoenix

The 2021-2022 school year marks the official 10-year anniversary of the current iteration of The Phoenix. Our history, which is tightly intertwined with FHS, as well as the greater Sunnyvale community, is a long and complicated one. To learn about The Phoenix, one has to delve into the history of Sunnyvale and the FUHSD.

West Side Union High School was established in 1923 and was the first school to be a part of the West Side Union High School District. On March 27, 1925, the name of the school was changed to FHS alongside the name of the district. 

The first reporting of FHS events was actually done not by a student-led FHS newspaper, but by Sunnyvale’s local paper called the Sunnyvale Standard. The Sunnyvale Standard stopped publishing in 1958, but throughout the 1940s they regularly had a section called “Fremont News.” This section reported on all notable events at FHS, particularly social events such as sports games, plays, dances and even who made the honor roll. While it might seem strange as to why the Sunnyvale Standard would report daily on one of the local high schools, it is important to note that the Sunnyvale then looked nothing like it does today. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Sunnyvale was a very small California town full of fruit orchards at the time, but it is now a part of the heavily developed Silicon Valley.

In the 1930 census, Sunnyvale had 3,094 residents. In the 2020 census, Sunnyvale had 155,805 residents. FHS currently has around 2,200 students and staff on campus. The total population of Sunnyvale in 1930 was only roughly 30% greater than the entire current population of FHS. The second high school to become a part of the FUHSD was Sunnyvale High School in 1956. SHS closed in 1981.  

Before SHS was closed, there were a lot of negative stereotypes surrounding the school as the April 17, 1981 edition of The Chief — the original name of the FHS student newspaper — dove into. In the front page article titled, “The Real Sunnyvale,” an unidentified writer discussed what FHS students thought of SHS.

“When I asked another girl at Fremont what she thought of Sunnyvale she said she’d heard it was ‘terrible,’” the staff writer wrote. “That seems to be the general feeling. Parents have gone as far as circulating petitions against the possibility of their children going to the school … One parent said that she had been driving by the ‘evil’ school and had supposedly seen some kids with chains beating up on another student.” 

The writer then decided to visit SHS for the day to determine how the school really was like. 

“In the one day that I spent there, I didn’t see any fights. No gangs roamed about waiting to beat people up,” the staff writer wrote in an article. “Nobody carried chains … I wasn’t even jumped in the halls or knifed behind the gym. When I attended Sunnyvale for a day, I had a good time because it was a change of pace.”

Finally the writer analyzes the fundamental differences between FHS and SHS. 

“What I’m really trying to say is that the only real difference between Sunnyvale and all the other high schools in our district is that they have a few more people of different races,” the staff writer wrote.After SHS was shut down in 1981, The King’s Academy, a private Christian middle and high school, was established in 1991 where SHS used to be. The district redrew the boundaries, and according to that same issue of The Chief, FHS absorbed 780 (83.07%) of the SHS students and Homestead absorbed the remaining 159 (16.93%) students. 

It is safe to say that at least at FHS, SHS was considered to be a lesser, inferior school in 1981. Now FHS, the one who absorbed the vast majority of SHS students, is considered to be perhaps not the inferior school, but the troublesome school of the remaining five. As the writer of The Chief in 1981 touched upon, the connection between the increased racial diversity of a school and its heightened perceived second-rateness throughout the FUHSD is unnerving. 

Looking at the compiled data from each of the five FUHSD school’s most recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges report or school profile, it is clear that FHS is by far the most racially diverse school. In the 2021-2022 school year, FHS is 39% Latino, 33% Asian, 19% Cacasian, 6% two or more races, 1% Filipino or Pacific Islander and 1% American Indian. Homestead is the second most diverse school in the district; the other three schools, Monta Vista, Cupertino and Lynbrook are all majority Asian.

It is vital that Fremont’s racial diversity is seen as its strength — not its weakness.         

It makes sense for the Sunnyvale Standard to have dedicated an entire page to “Fremont News” each and every release, since FHS was a large part of the small town.     

FHS’s first student-led newspaper started in 1945 and was called The Chief. FHS’s original mascot was the Indian, hence the name The Chief. Because of the realization that using native symbols and names was racist, The Indian mascot was replaced with FHS’s current mascot, the Firebird, on July 1, 1996. All references to the original Indian mascot were scrubbed away from the campus. With the introduction of the Fremont Firebirds, The Chief transformed into The Phoenix. The only remaining remnant of FHS’s previous mascot is its dancing team which is called the Featherettes which worked thematically for both mascots and was thus kept. The decision to replace the Indian mascot was quite controversial and was covered by The Chief on their Oct. 12, 1995 release. 

“Over my dead body will people tell us we’re the Jets, Sharks, or anything else without student choice,” Assistant Principal Peggy Raun-Linde said in 1995. 

In the 1997-1998 school year following the changing of Fremont’s mascot, the newspaper was called The Tinderbox. Thankfully, the name was changed to its current The Phoenix and ran from the 1998-1999 school year until the 2010-2011 school year. The Phoenix was slated to take a year recess due to a variety of factors, low enrollment being one of them. According to Mercury News, only 17 students signed up to take journalism for the 2011-2012 school year. For the 2021-2022 school year, there are 45 students enrolled in journalism.  

“In the fight to save the Fremont Phoenix, the student newspaper, organizers adopted muteness,” Scott Herhold wrote. “They taped their mouths. For about 10 minutes on an overcast morning, roughly 80 kids — about half with duct tape — marched through campus to the office of Principal James Maxwell, where they dropped off a statement demanding that the journalism class not be cut.” 

According to Lori Riehl, an assistant principal for FHS at the time and now the president of the FUHSD adult school, the decision to put a temporary pause on the paper was multifaceted. 

“When I arrived it was my understanding that enrollments were very low and that was corroborated by the data we were getting from students turning in course selections,” Riehl said. ”Then there were also financial challenges with the paper so whereas the other high schools so when we started doing our investigation of what are we gonna do with this paper we also realized that we haven’t been selling advertising and the [money] that others schools had, our school did not have to support the printing and all that stuff.”

The Phoenix did in fact take its one year hiatus during the 2010-2011 school year. This allowed the paper, according to Riehl, to be reset and for the school to find a new instructor for the class. It was during this time that a Writing for Publications class was introduced — which is no longer offered at FHS. The school and district also worked with the FUHS Foundation — a non-profit that raises money to support the schools in the FUHSD — to get financial support for journalism.

“All of us were very very dedicated to making sure there was a newspaper,” Riehl said. “The year it went dark so to speak was because we knew it needed a reset. There was never a time where we said ‘oh well they won’t have a newspaper.’ That was never a thought.”

 The Phoenix, much like an actual phoenix, managed to rise out of the ashes of its imminent demise and start anew. After its return, The Phoenix was run by Breanne Hubbard for a few years before she moved away and was then run by Stacey Stebbins; Stebbins now works at Presentation High School, a private high school in San Jose. The Phoenix was then turned over to its current advisor, Emer Martin.

“That first year at Fremont was pretty special because the kids were super excited,” Stebbins said. “I remember the day we published the first issue and I don’t know who it was to this day but somebody anonymously sent us balloons and congratulated us on our first publication. We got recognized by the board that year … Being a part of the revitalization was pretty great.”

Assistant principal Andy Walczak worked on The Chief in his junior and senior years when he was a student at FHS in the early 90’s. Walczak has a passion for preserving the past and has kept for safekeeping numerous editions of The Phoenix, The Chief and even the Sunnyvale Standard from decades past. The first time that Fremont News was included in the Sunnyvale Standard was on October 15, 1943, Vol. 1, No. 1.

“I think in the ‘40s and ‘50s [The Chief] was a lighter look at the school,” Walczak said. “There was a lot of gossipy stuff, a lot of tongue in cheek stuff. There was really a lot of hyperfocus on what was happening day to day in the school, not a lot of acknowledgement of the outside world.”

Walczak believes that in the 2000s and 2010s the newspaper’s focus shifted to a balance between school events and national events to the present day where the paper has more of a focus on national events.

“The paper that you guys do [current Phoenix staff] is a heck of a lot more sincere,” Walczak said. “In the ‘40s and ‘50s it was kinda goofy and I know certainly in the ‘80s and ‘90s there was just a lot of snark and sarcasm.”

Walczak’s favorite memories from his time working at the paper were definitely the production nights.

“Our advisor would be sitting in the classroom correcting English papers and we’d be in our little room doing all the designing … I was the sports guy and a lot of people on the paper were not so it was a cool chance for me just to meet different people.”

Last but not least, Walczak always cherished his time spent playing Tetris on the Macintosh computers with the rest of the journalism.students.

While The Phoenix may be celebrating its 10 year anniversary, this is actually the 77 year anniversary of FHS’s student newspaper stretching from The Chief to The Tinderbox to The Phoenix. So here’s to another successful 77 years of the paper!