While interviewing Rick Wells about a week ago about his departure from the school board, I threw out a question about what prompted him to run for the position in the first place. He responded with a very interesting answer that revolved around his daughter.
“The main issue at that time was I had a daughter who was hearing-impaired and she had gone to the deaf school and in her senior year up there, she was not going to graduate that year because she was a little bit behind in reading, and being deaf, that was not uncommon,” Wells said.
Wells was told that since his daughter was 18 years old, she could decide where she would want to graduate. And he was told by a Philomath school official that she wouldn’t have to wait another year either as the case would be at the Oregon School for the Deaf.
“I said ‘no she can’t; she hasn’t gone to Philomath High School,’” Wells recalled. “He says since she’s a student in the district, she can come down there and graduate. So that really was kind of the last straw because we tried to mainstream her when she was younger and they wanted nothing to do with it. And now all of a sudden, they want her as a graduate.”
The interaction made Wells feel like his daughter was just a number to be included in a report.
“Once I got on the board and figured out how things work and their graduate rate, the way they figure that, that’s why they wanted her,” he said. “They didn’t want her in the school for 10, 12 years but they wanted her for her last year so that they could have a graduate ... and I decided, that’s it, we need to change this district.”
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Graduation standards became a very big issue for Wells during his time on the board.
“When you take a school that has 100 percent IEP students (Oregon School for the Deaf) and they have to reach the 10th-grade level to graduate from the 12th grade but in Philomath, all they had to do was get their credits — they could be a seventh or eighth grade retention level and still grade from the 12th grade — I said ‘this isn’t right.’
“That was one of the main things that I ran for the board for was to see if we couldn’t make it a better district and up the graduation standards to where they had to work a little harder to get it,” he added.
Wells ran unopposed in Zone 5 in the 2003 school board election and would go on to serve 16 years.
For the years that I’ve covered the Philomath School Board, I’ve appreciated Rick’s matter-of-fact approach to the position. To me, he was a board member who would tell me what was on his mind and from a reporter’s standpoint, that’s something that we don’t always see.
Best of luck to Rick and the other departing school board member, Shelly Brown, in their future endeavors.