Merrill’s History

Merrill Junior High School was opened for students in September, 1961.  The building was dedicated in honor of a man who had devoted the major portion of his life to educating boys and girls in Des Moines, Iowa.  His name was Mr. Albert W. Merrill.

From 1892-1941, Mr. Merrill was a successful teacher, high school principal, assistant Superintendent, acting Superintendent, and Superintendent of Schools (1937-41).

Prior to the opening of Merrill, the junior high school was at Roosevelt. With the opening of Merrill in 1961, the junior high school was discontinued at Roosevelt.  At that point, Roosevelt became a senior high school. In the early years, Merrill also provided some relief for Hanawalt Elementary School for grades five and six.  Those grades remained at Merrill until the fall of 1973, when the construction of a new addition at Hanawalt Elementary School allowed for the departure of the elementary grades.  During this period, the peak enrollment at Merrill was 867 in 1968.

Beginning in 1968, Merrill was designated as a receiving school for the Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP). The VTP was initiated by the school district to provide for better city-wide integration of minority students across the district.  The first year of implementation, eighteen students were bused to Merrill. The program expanded over the years so that 72 students were scheduled to attend Merrill in the fall of 1975.

Information about Merrill Middle School from the Original Construction:

  • Builders: William Knudson & Sons, A.J. Allen Plumbing & Heating Co., Weston Electric
  • Contract let: September 15, 1959
  • Site acquired: 1944 to 1959 – 9.5 acres
  • Date construction started: September 19, 1959
  • 24 classrooms (grades 7 through 9) plus 4 elementary classrooms
  • Opened with 750 students
  • Lecture room seating: 250
  • Double gymnasium with folding bleachers seating 500
  • Library

Recent School Improvements/Renovations

During the summer of 2011, major building renovations took place to improve the school.  Some of the school improvements were:

  • New energy efficient lighting
  • New energy efficient windows and replacement of some exterior doors
  • New heating/cooling system
  • New building-wide electrical upgrades
  • Building security upgrades
  • Kitchen and food service equipment upgrades
  • New network wiring and switches—removal of all old wiring
  • IP Phones
  • PA system upgrade

International Baccalaureate Programme

On March 9, 2011, Merrill became an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the Middle Years Programme. Merrill is one of two schools in the state of Iowa to reach such a distinction.

The Middle Years Programme allows Merrill to intellectually challenge our 660 students, and it encourages them to make connections to the real world. Further, it “fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding and global engagement, qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century.”


Mr. Edward Bigot opened Merrill in 1961 and continued in the post of principal until his retirement in 1974. 

Since Mr. Bigot’s retirement, the following individuals have served as principals:

  • Mr. John I. Barrett (1974-1987)
  • Mr. Lacey D. Spriggs (1987-1990)
  • Dr. Paul D. Devin (1990-1994)
  • Ms. Janice L. Johnson (1994-2000)
  • Ms. Toni Dann (2000-2003)
  • Mr. Alex S. Hanna (2003-2018)

Ms. Kathryn Panek is the current principal.  Ms. Panek began her tenure at Merrill on July 1, 2018.