Culture Book payson high school


Culture is like a garden: It’ll grow whether you tend it or not.

We want a good garden, intentionally cultivated.

This Culture Book explains what we do and how we do it. Most importantly, it describes why we do it. In short, this book describes the Way of the Lion.

For a printable PDF version of this Culture Book, click HERE.

"The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why."



Our vision and mission are our life’s work. They represent the why behind everything we do. Our vision gives life to all of our actions, and informs all of our decisions.


Our vision is simple. We believe that education enriches and empowers lives. We aim to endow our students with that power. We aim to improve their lives, and thereby improve the world.


Because quality education enriches lives, we are committed to work together to ensure high levels of learning and growth for everyone at Payson High School.


We Care – We Excel


At Payson High School we believe in what we call “The Four R’s” of education: positive Relationships, Rigor, Relevance, and Reflection.

We intentionally plan out ways in which we will address all four R’s in our instruction, interactions, and professional growth.

OUR HISTORY: Where We Come From
"If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree."

- Michael Chrichton


Payson has a long, rich tradition of celebrating learning and providing an exceptional education.

What began as the first high school south of Salt Lake City in 1873 has grown into the singular Payson High School of today.

To read our unique and inspiring Origin Story, including how we were inspired by the community spirit of the Payson Lions Club to adopt the Lions mascot, visit our website or use the link above.

Timeline of Historical Highlights

The Payson area has long been home to Native Americans of the Ute, Southern Paiute, Navajo, Goshute, and the Northern and Eastern Shoshone.


A group of Spanish explorers arrived in the Payson area, making contact with the local inhabitants.


Latter-day Saint pioneers founded Payson as a city. It was first named Peteetneet Creek after Chief Peteetneet, a Timpanogos Indian chief who lived in the area. The city was later renamed as Payson after one of the founding settlers, James Pace (then spelled “Pacen”).


The first high school south of Salt Lake City was established in Payson. This school is the intellectual, if not the institutional, ancestor of Payson High School.


The first high school in Payson was closed in order to consolidate students into Brigham Young Academy in Provo


Payson Public Schools established a school called the Central School, gradually adding grades until it became a high school.


The first graduating class from the Central School of Payson Public Schools totaled 13 students.


The first year of Payson High football. The team’s first name was the Payson Farmers, later renamed the Beetdiggers, and later the Maple Leaves. The Maple Leaves mascot is what gave PHS the school colors of green and silver.


Payson wins the Utah County Track & Field Championships


Construction on the first school building officially called Payson Senior High School was completed, a beautiful two story red brick building.


The first class of seniors from the officially named Payson Senior High School graduated.


The first Utah state championship for Payson High School was won by the track & field team.


The mascot of the Maple Leaves, was changed to the Lions to thank the local chapter of the Lions Club for their generous fundraising contributions to the school. The club donated money to purchase the football team’s uniforms, bought season tickets as a way to donate to the school, and provided a banquet dinner for the team after a difficult semi-final loss in the state tournament.


A new Payson High School building was built.


Payson High School and much of the surrounding community was used as the location for filming Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon.


The nearby Salem Hills High School opened, dramatically reducing the faculty and student body of Payson High School.


Kevin Bacon (from the 1984 Footloose movie) sent Payson High School a personalized video to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the movie.

A schoolwide student contest was held to design a school logo. The winning design was the P with the lion face embedded in it. In the years since then, the Lion P has become the iconic symbol of PHS, often cited as one of the best high school logos around. Our logos can be viewed by clicking here.


Payson High School students were featured on the radio program This American Life, one of the most popular podcasts in the world.


An additional school logo was adopted by the school to be used primarily for athletic contexts, a fierce-looking lion head. It was also designed by a student. The P lion logo will be used primarily as the school's academic mark. Our logos can be viewed by clicking here.


Ground will be broken for the next incarnation of Payson High, a completely new, state of the art school building.

Winning Tradition

State Championships

Track & Field: 1917, 1934, 1954, 1979

Football: 1925, 1943, 1969, 1971

Wrestling: 1998, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2019, 2021

Girls Basketball: 2005

Marching Band: 2015

Winter Guard: 2016

Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.

-R. J. Palacio


Empowered by our shared vision and mission, we work tirelessly to make them a reality. Our values are a roadmap for how we go about realizing our life’s work.

Community, Care, Belongingness, Grit, Mastery Mindset, Pride, and Innovation.

We have codified these seven values, representing the seven communities that make up our PHS family; not that each value does not represent a specific sub-community, but that together they describe us all. Read on to learn about how we view and try to enact each value.


AKA: Teamwork, Unity, Collaboration, Collegiality, Connection, Oneness, Cooperation, Interdependence, Family, Support, Trust, Comradery

Our shared story with the Lions Club highlights the core belief of our Lion Pride: that our greatest power is realized when our community comes together to serve, strengthen, and support each other. Our faculty and staff have each other’s backs and love to pull together. Our students, the same.

What this looks like:

Asking colleagues for advice, feedback, and help and giving the same

Including students’ parents in finding solutions

Cleaning up messes—big, small, and metaphorical

Eating lunch together

What this sounds like:

“As a team, how can we better support other school programs?”

“Hang on. Let me get their parent on the phone.”

“She is new here. What can we do to support her?”

“Come get your popcorn in the counseling office!”


AKA: Kindness, Compassion, Relationships, Love, Nurture, People-first

We care deeply about people and refuse to let policies and bureaucratic procedures become obstacles to communicating the value we hold for relationships and compassion.

We give without asking.

We assume the best of others.

Our bottom line is, simply, have we improved their lives?

What this looks like:

Working with students so that we learn their real lives, not just the idea of them

Building relationships with students, colleagues, and the families that we serve

What this sounds like:

“Plan to NOT WORK during Spring Break. It's been a long year and you need to take care of yourselves.”

“I am so sorry to hear about that family emergency. Of course you can have some extra time.”


AKA: Inclusiveness, Welcomingness, Friendliness, Acceptance, Tolerance, Diversity

We need EVERYONE in order to be successful. We recognize that diverse experiences, backgrounds, and points of view create a vibrant community that makes us stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. We aim to build and maintain a school culture where everyone feels welcome and safe. There’s a place for all in the Lion Pride. Everyone belongs.

What this looks like:

Being each others’ biggest fans

Going out of our way to recognize and value the marginalized

Lots and lots of high fives.

What this sounds like:

“We missed you yesterday. It’s just not the same without you.”

“Everyone belongs in our Lion Pride.”

“I noticed that Johnny usually sits alone. How can we loop him into a good social circle?”

“I had never thought about it that way. Thank you for giving me more perspective.”

“Once a Lion, always a Lion!”


AKA: Toughness, Resilience, Persistence, Perseverance, Endurance, Work Ethic, Flexibility, Adaptability, Energy, Excitement, Passion

We work with passion and perseverance.

Failures do not stop us; They make us better. Our work is our calling.

We understand that success requires sustained effort over the long-haul, setbacks are normal, and mistakes are our greatest teachers.

What this looks like:

Going the extra mile—not because we should, but because we are so excited about the potential of our students

Not giving up on a project, or a person, because it is hard

What this sounds like:

“Ouch! We failed hard. Let’s reflect, tweak, and try again.”

“What is giving you energy at school this week?”


AKA: Growth Mindset, Excellence, Ambition, Lifelong Learning, Rigor, Curiosity

Whenever we reach a goal, we aim higher. We are committed to continuous improvement. We celebrate failure as a learning opportunity. We understand that mastery of our content and of the educator’s craft is a life-long quest that we can never fully achieve, but are forever improving.

We also help our students understand that they are capable of greatness! And we don't let them off of the hook from receiving a first class education.

What this looks like:

Soliciting and applying feedback

Assuming feedback is offered for no other reason than to make us better

Committing to always seeking professional improvement in our skills

Doing the best we know how with what we have that day, but knowing it can still be better

What this sounds like:

“Who made a wonderful mistake today?”

“I’m so much better than I used to be. And I see how good I want to become.”

“I can see you are trying hard to master this concept. Of course you can have a few extra days on it.”

“Everyone’s a teacher, and a student.”


AKA: Confidence, Loyalty, Respect, Dignity, Honor, Joy, Satisfaction, a Family of Lions, a Sense of Tradition and History

We respect our long history, our rich tradition, and ourselves. We love our school and community and expect the best from ourselves. School pride is much deeper than just wearing the silver and the green. It is a way of being, a way of belonging to something bigger than any one of us.

What this looks like:

Publicly celebrating our successes

Picking up a bit of trash in the hallway, even when no one is looking

Attending school events like games, concerts, and plays

Looking in-house for expertise and skill before looking to others.

What this sounds like:

“I’m sorry, but we don't talk that way here.”

“What can I say? We’re from Payson. Success is just what we do here.”

“Wasn’t that concert amazing? We have so much talent here!”

“I bet one of our teachers can do that.”


AKA: Creativity, Resourcefulness, Progress, Future-mindedness, Imagination, Pioneering Spirit

In addition to taking great pride in our long history and rich tradition, we don't stubbornly cling to ideas that don’t work. We thrive off of seeking the best ideas and orienting our gaze toward the future.

Sometimes life, the weather, or our technology throws us a curveball, but we just rethink and re-adjust.

What this looks like:

Looking for new ways to solve problems

Growing ideas from the ground-up, embracing grass-roots initiatives

Being willing to courageously try something new

What this sounds like:

“Maybe it is time to rethink how we do that.”

“What if we tried . . .?”

“Let’s get those creative juices flowing.”

“The internet is down today? No worries. I’ll switch it up.”

OUR WORK: What We Do
"The reward of a thing well done is having done it."

-Ralph Waldo Emmerson


To prioritize everything is to prioritize nothing.

As a school we guarantee that our students will learn the big rocks in each course they take. We work together in PLC teams to establish those big rocks and to strategize about how to help each kid achieve them. We celebrate mistakes and failures as the fuel for real, enduring learning. We hold a mastery-mindset for students and for staff.

We will continue working together to make our PLC become ever better.

Our Lingo
"When people talk the walk, as they walk the talk . . . the result is better performance across the board."

-Michael Fullan

Big rocks: The most important concepts to teach in your curriculum. These are your “must understands.” You guarantee that a student will learn the big rocks of your class.

IEP: “Individual education plan.” Students in the special education (SPED) program have an IEP, which identifies specific classroom accommodations that must be made, by law, for that student. IEP also refers to the meeting in which the plan is approved.

Learning pit: Learning that sticks has to be kind of hard. Some confusion, cognitive challenge, and failure are the desirable difficulties we seek for enduring learning. Failure is not to be avoided, but ennobled and celebrated.

Mr. Jensen Moment: Differences are made in students' lives when we take advantage of the moment. A Mr. Jensen moment is when we pause, let a student know that they are heard, we care, and we inspire them to achieve.

PGP: “Professional growth plan.” Each year you will create a PGP in which you will make a deliberate plan to improve in some area of our craft. You will receive specific training on how to do this.

PLC: “Professional learning community.” It is a group of teachers working towards a common goal. It is also the way we work together by collaborating, sharing data, and targeting student learning by student, by standard. Teaching is a team sport.

SLO: “Student learning outcomes.” Each year you will create an SLO document to track your impact on your students. You will receive specific training on how to do this.

Tier One: This is the level of intervention that we give to all students like great classroom teaching, communicating with parents, providing opportunities to continue learning.

Tier Two: This is the level of intervention that we give to certain students, as needed, like re-teaching during intervention time, referral to advocates, counselors, or administrators.

Tier Three: This is the level of intervention that we give to a few students, school wide, like referral to social workers, attendance court, or Landmark H.S.

504: Section 504 is similar to an IEP. Some students have special medical or mental conditions that require accommodations. The 504 plan outlines those accommodations that you must implement.


Q: Are there regular collaboration meetings?

You bet there are. Every Monday we meet in our PLC teams. As it says in Our Lingo, teaching is a team sport.

Q: What are the grading expectations?


Our patrons (students and parents) depend on grading information that is accurate and current. The expectation is that all grades are brought 100% up to date at a minimum of once per week.

Q: What are the expectations for taking attendance?


It is absolutely critical, and also required by the law, that we take accurate attendance in every class, every day. All attendance will be entered into the computer by 3:00 PM the same day.

Q: What are our email norms?

Answer within 24 hours

If you’re swamped, just send the requester a quick reply to tell them when you can work on it.

Follow-up within 48 hours

If you haven’t heard back in two days, it’s cool to courteously ping them again.

Weekends and evenings are free

You can send emails whenever, but there’s no need to answer before Monday. In the *rare* case when an issue is urgent during those off times, they’ll call or text you.

Two-email rule:

If it’s not solved in two emails, pick up the phone, or walk down to them. Three minutes on the phone or in person can save much longer trying to decipher what someone means in their email. If after the first clarification email you still don’t know what they mean, call them.

Q: Where can I find the school’s logos?

School website, Athletics or Fine Arts

PHS controls our brand. We have two official logos, official and authorized colors, and fonts. You can find it all on the school website by clicking on Athletics or Fine Arts and following the links from there.

Q: Where can I find more school information?

School website, including the faculty resource page

The school tries hard to keep all of the important information you might need to access online. Particularly, you should read the document titled “Teaching at Payson High School” to find more information about the expectations we have of our teachers, as well as counselors, coaches, and other staff at the corresponding links. Other information can be found on our website.

Acknowledgement: This book was inspired by and modeled after the Culture Book produced and used by Dr. Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab. It guides their organizational culture and codifies their norms. Check out the good work they are doing for students and teachers at CharacterLab.org