When the newly built Highland High School opened its doors in east Salt Lake City in 1956, Dean Collett was there—he began his teaching career on what he later recalled was just $2,750 a year.
Until his retirement in 2021 he stayed for almost the rest of his life, teaching, mentoring and inspiring generations of Highland students. When the school was named Collett Commons in his honor in March 2022, 1960s graduates were returning to tell stories of his continued care for them, reported student journalist Claire Sophie Malinka-Thompson.
That community is now in mourning as Highland announced in a Facebook post that Collett had died on Wednesday. The school will hold a memorial service for him on June 23 at 8 p.m. at the football stadium.
“As a teacher, advisor, mentor and friend, he has touched the lives of so many,” the Highland Post said. “His influence, leadership, example and friendship extend far beyond the classroom. His presence will be missed beyond words.”
Collett briefly retired, leaving his counseling post and school in 2007. However, he returned as student representative in April 2008 and held that role until April 30, 2021.
He saw Highland change over the course of his career: from a neighborhood institution with few minority students; to a diverse high school that accepted youth from across the city in the 1980s after student enrollment in the district declined, South High closed, and attendance limits changed; on the recent talks about whether to demolish the aging building.
Issues that Collett raised as a high school counselor in the Highlands in the 1990s are being debated again today: Should students in the west of the city have the opportunity to attend a high school in their neighborhood? And the district is once again grappling with declining enrollment, with school boards considering proposing expensive remodeling of Highland and West High.
An educator and advocate
Collett was born in 1928 and grew up in Salt Lake City with five siblings, he told oral history interviewer Fred Buchanan in April 1992. Collett’s father was a banker who eventually lost his job in the later years of the Depression.
“So when we were kids, we had to work as best we could most of our lives, starting as a paperboy doing yard work for the neighborhood neighbors,” recalls Collett. “I worked in a grocery store all my years through junior high and high school, paying ten cents an hour, but enough to help bring groceries home.”
In June 1945, at age 16, he graduated from East High School, then studied for two years at the University of Utah before serving a three-year mission to Sweden for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon his return in 1950, he began attending the US again, then left again to do military service in Germany during the Korean War.
Upon his return, he completed his studies at the U., graduating in 1956 with a teaching diploma. He first taught math, then added German, and then, as national interest in the language was sparked by the success of Sputnik, taught Russian — which he didn’t say it.
“I couldn’t speak anything,” he recalled. “I went to school this summer and started with the basics. … I went to school three hours a night. Then I would teach it at school the next morning. This is how my Russian experience began.”
He later took an intensive course and ended up teaching Russian for 15 years.
Collett transitioned to a career as a counselor in the 1978-79 school year, he said, noting that students were more open to counseling than in previous years as they struggled with academic performance and changing family dynamics.
He’s seen Highland move away from “compact” borders in an affluent neighborhood with few minority students, he said. After South High School closed in 1988, the West, East, and Highland boundaries were changed to spread students across the three schools, making Highland more diverse.
That wealth has strengthened the school, he told The Salt Lake Tribune, recalling 2016. But speaking to Buchanan earlier in 1992, Collett said he wasn’t sure how well the borders served West Side students .
“For example in Highland I think there are 8 to 12 busloads full of kids that come at 7am every morning. They’re found throughout the valley,” he said.
“You have to leave at 2:15 p.m. Therefore we deny them the opportunity to be part of the school and take part in the activities that take place after school or in the evenings, since most of them come from an area where there is not much money. They cannot afford to use public transport to go to events in the evening,” he added. “So you don’t feel like you’re part of a school. you go here They come to learn but they cannot participate.”
As an example, he gave a Hispanic student who had come to see him that afternoon. Many of the Glendale boy’s friends attended West High, Collett said. “His comment was, ‘I’ve never felt so stressed out as I do here in the Highlands.’ … I don’t feel like I belong. … I used to feel good, but I have nothing to share in.’”
The same criticism echoes today — in calls from parents, alumni, and others for a new high school in west Salt Lake City.
[Read more: Are Salt Lake City taxpayers ready to support three new high schools?]
“Once a ram, always a ram”
In addition to being an educator and student advocate, Collett was the embodiment of Highland High School for many, including Katie Iemeria, a Class of 1994 graduate.
“A lot of people called him ‘Mr. Highland,” said Iemeria, who is now the Salt Lake City School District Administrator. “He’s Highland.”
Iemeria recalled a moment in high school when she had to prepare a presentation during her art history class. A shy, reserved student, she was nervous and turned to Collett for advice. Not only did Collett manage to calm her nerves, he also told Iemeria that she would make a great teacher.
“I’m not sure how many people he ever said that to, but it really changed my life. His encouragement made me want to pursue an education,” said Iemeria, who eventually taught for about 20 years and became Assistant Principal at Highland. “When I finally got the job, it was my very first call.”
One of the greatest lessons Iemeria learned from Collett was to always remember the school and the people who shaped it, to be kind and “always stand on the student’s side, always on the side of being.” to stand”. more patient or loving or gentle.”
“There’s a saying he used to say, ‘Once a ram, always a ram,'” she said. “‘Highland created you, and no matter where you go, whatever you do, don’t forget that.'”
He’s a “legend” in the community, even though he hated attention, Iemeria said. “He was always a humble man.”
Iemeria once said that when she was having lunch with Collett at Millie’s Burgers at 2100 South in Sugar House, passing drivers honked their horns and people came up to Collett to greet him while they sat outside.
“Everyone was attracted to him. They wanted to be close to him, to feel his spirit,” she said. “One felt encouraged and renewed to be alone around him.”
That love was reflected in the many comments on Highland’s Facebook post. Many commentators remembered Collett as selfless and always there for the students. Some mentioned similar stories to Iemeria – how Collett inspired her to become counselors and educators. One author said they named a son after Collett to honor his influence on their lives.
“I can’t imagine Highland High without imagining Dean Collett in its hallways,” wrote one commenter. “His kindness, encouragement and example touched the lives of so many people when they needed it most.”
While Collett never married, Iemeria said all 30,000 or more students he ever interacted with are his children.
“Everyone could learn something from Dean, and if you paid attention, it made you a much better person to get to know him,” she said. “And I think that’s his legacy, that you were such a much better person just because you were around him.”
Collett himself said that his goal as an educator was to make students not only better citizens, but better people. He told Buchanan in the 1992 interview that he felt it was his responsibility not only to be there for the students when they needed him, but also to show them that he cared about him.
And Collett said he would do anything again
“I would throw myself in just as far as I did,” Collett told Buchanan. “It was the most rewarding thing in my life, the most rewarding thing. … There is nothing happier [than] that a student you taught 30 years ago will come back and remember you because you gave them something.”