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Kelly School – A Neighbor’s Call

October 3, 2013

Our great neighbor knew we were working on getting Kelly School ready for opening day the Tuesday after Labor Day.  I had no sooner finished all the raking of dirt and our neighbor, Bill called.  He said they were getting new carpeting and did I want the carpeting that they were replacing.  He said it was in very good condition with very little wear.  Without a second’s hesitation, I said, “You bet!”  The carpeting would go in the lower room where I would have the K-2 children.  It was a nice gold color and short shag.  It would make the room much more cozy and improve the sound.  When I loaded it into my pick up truck and arrived at Kelly School I found out it covered almost all the room and needed no cutting.  My next project to improve the interior of both rooms would get a big boost from one thousand seven hundred miles away.  It happened on our annual trip to visit friends and relatives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Mrs. T as the children would call Bobbi had a nephew whose father owned a large discount store similar to today’s Target Stores.  Ross’ father was remodeling his store and installing new counters and shelving.  When we visited the store to see what was being done, I noticed large stacks of used 5/8 inch plywood along one wall.  A question popped into my mind.  I asked Ross’ dad what was going to happen to the plywood used on the old shelving.  He said it was going to be hauled to the landfill and probably burned.  I mentioned the need for just that kind of wood to use to build book shelves and study carrels along two walls at Kelly School.  His immediate response, “Help yourself to all you want.”  I showered him with thank you after thank you.  On our way back to Jackson Hole our little Chevy pick up truck was loaded down with plywood for Kelly School.  Our school district was operating on an austerity budget and had no money to put into improvements for Kelly School.  Back at Kelly School the third week in August, I had just enough time left to build shelves and study carrels along the west wall in each of our rooms.  When I finished the building of the shelves and study carrels, I had a very small supply of plywood left over.  With all the work done and summer ending, Mrs. T and I began making plans to create ways to have great physical activities even though we had no gymnasium.  You’ll learn about our plans soon.  Regards, Mr. T

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Kelly School – Play Area Takes Shape

October 2, 2013

The belly dump trucks left huge piles of beautiful rich black topsoil leaving me the challenging of trying to spread it over the entire area we would use for lots of sports.  An offer of help came immediately.  One of the Kelly School parents owned a backhoe and spent three hours moving the dirt over the play area.  It saved me hours of shovel and wheelbarrow work.  I was grateful  for this help.  Now all I had to do was rake the dirt so it would cover the ground smoothly and as evenly as possible.  The backhoe had left lots of ruts and tire tracks making the racking pretty tough.  I started in the Northeast corner and worked my way to the Southeast corner covering a strip the length of my rake.  I needed the shovel to break up lumps and grooves in the dirt spread by the backhoe.  One strip done and I walked to the Northeast corner to do the next strip always liking to work left to right.  I followed the same routine for two raking five to eight hours each day.  I was almost to the end and was only two strips from the blacktop and the end of the raking when a  ” It could only happen in Kelly , Wyoming episode took place”.   A woman came cutting across the playground on her way home.  She stopped to ask me if I had seen Betty.  She said Betty was her pet raven.  I said I hadn’t.  She said if I saw Betty I should tell her to go home, and Betty would understand.  As I chuckled to myself, I told her I would be happy to tell Betty to head for home.  After several more hours of work, I noticed a car pull up next to the school.  The car had a California license.  The driver came up to ask for directions to the Gros Ventre Slide area, a popular geological feature above Kelly.  I proceeded to tell him he turned off the main road too soon and started to give him the route to his destination.  In the middle of my explanation a raven flew over us and came down on the dirt only five feet away.  The tourist was startled, but I wasn’t.  I went down on one knee and called out, “Betty, come here”.  Betty flew up onto my extended arm.  I’m sure she was thinking I had a treat for her.  I looked Betty in the eye and said, “Betty, your master said she wants you to come home.  Betty, go home,” I shouted. Betty launched herself into the air and headed south toward the residential area of Kelly, Wyoming.  Without a word, I rose to my feet and finished letting the stunned tourist know how to get to the Gros Ventre Slide.  He was utterly speechless as he walked down to his car with a story I’m sure he would be sharing for some time to come.  The raking was finally finished the first part of August.  No time to plant grass seed and no money to buy sod.  We would play on good old fashion dirt.  Grass seed would be spread in 1980.  Now my attention turned to doing what I could to improve the interior of the two classrooms before school started the day after Labor Day.  I would get two more surprises which would help me with the interior work.  Will be back with the next chapter soon.

Kelly School – Sadly Neglected

September 30, 2013

We have the summer to make good things happen for the children in our care at Kelly School.  With a slab of blacktop, a swing set. and two monkey bars for a playground with no place for soccer, kickball, softball, and capture the flag, we knew play space would be sorely inadequate for our 29 students.  The sagebrush and rocks had to go.  Topsoil would be  needed and eventually grass seed.  With no gym we would definitely need outdoor play space for recess and PE.  The day after school closed, and I left my classroom at the middle school, loaded up my shovel, pick, and wheelbarrow and headed for Kelly School. The superintendent had no intention of keeping his promise to the Kelly School parents to build a wonderful playground for their children.  I would not let it happen.  I decided to spend the summer creating a great playing field for all types of games.  Day after day I dug up rocks and sagebrush and wheelbarrowed it off the site.  Everyday I could see progress being made.  As I worked, I realized I would need lots of topsoil to cover the rough surface containing gravel and small rocks.  While working one day  I heard on the radio work had begun on a Motel 6 to be built just south of town.  I had gotten to know the folks who owned Clark’s Ready Mix and Excavation.  They had the contract to clear the land and build the foundation for the motel.  I went in to see Lew Clark, one of the partners at Clark’s Ready Mix.  He and his wife helped me make contacts during the campaign for the bond issue for the new high school.  I asked Lew what he planned to do with the topsoil they were removing from the motel site.  He said, “Do you want it for the Kelly School playground?”  I told him I would love to have it but had no money to buy it.  He asked me if belly dump trucks could get up on the playground.  I told him they sure could.  He told me the topsoil was mine for Kelly School and there would be no charge.  He made my day.  I had to step up the removal of rock and sagebrush to be ready for huge dump trucks.  I did the removal just in time and will never forget the arrival of the huge belly dumps and watched them drive up the bank west of our two room school, open their bellies and deposit the rich black dirt.  Now my challenge was to rake out the dirt to cover the play area making it as level as possible.  I would get some surprise help to move the tall piles of dirt.  Stay tuned for that surprise and more help from as far away as 1700 miles.

Kelly School – Promises Made

September 17, 2013

Bobbi and I let the Superintendent know we would accept the teaching positions at Kelly School, and work hard to make it a great learning environment for all the students in our care.  Armed with our decision the Superintendent held a meeting with all the parents from Kelly, Wyoming and the parents whose children would be leaving Jackson Elementary School in town.  He anticipated some opposition to his plan and went to the meeting prepared with lots of promises.  He promised the parents that the two rooms would be improved with most of the work being done to the bare bones basement room, my classroom.  He promised to construct a beautiful play ground with new play equipment and a grassy area for kickball, soccer, softball, etc.  He said the upper playground would be for older students and there would be a lower play ground  for the younger children.  Then he announced that Bobbi and I, both experienced teachers with masters’ degrees would be the teachers.  Most parents were impressed and cooperative except for one mother who was not at all happy.  She had many objections with the main one being the large campground bordering the school’s play ground.  She said the children would see awful things going on in the campground including people relieving themselves out in the open.  To take care of this issue, the Superintendent promised a six foot high wooden fence would be erected blocking any view of the campground.  The promises were made, the meeting ended on a positive note, everyone left all satisfied except the one mother.  A month or so later the Superintendent accepted an assignment in a school system in another state.  Now Bobbi and I are faced with the prospect of unkept promises and jobs at a school lacking the facilities that children in every other school enjoyed.  It could end up as a public relations problem.  We could not let this happened. and we made plans to make sure it didn’t.  Next blog-We Swing into Action for the chidden at Kelly School.

Kelly School – Should we take the plunge?

September 14, 2013

The offer for Bobbi and I to become the two teachers at the two room Kelly School presented us with a huge decision. Should we leave our teaching positions in the town of Jackson, Bobbi in the elementary school and me in the middle school, and head out to the tiny K-6 Kelly Elementary in the village of Kelly, Wyoming nestled under the Gros Ventre Mountain Range? Everyday we talked it over. Early on I was in favor of the move. Teaching 125 eighth graders in six classes everyday was not my cup of tea. Having our own little school looked good to me. We would be like one big family. We could have our teachers’ meetings in our car on the way to school each morning. We could schedule our own parent club meetings. We could make decisions without the use of committees. I had fellow teachers cover two of my classes while I paid a visit to Kelly School while it was in session. I arrived at Kelly School and found a boy sitting outside on the doorstep as discipline for bad behavior. I found the teacher at her desk applying make up while the 11 students in her classroom were idling away their time with sundry activities. I saw a school with an upper room with a view of the Tetons and a windowless basement room with a linoleum floor. There were just two toilet seats in two restrooms, on for boys and one for girls. There was no gym, no kitchen, very little storage storage space, and hardly any shelves for books. Outside there was practically no grass and mostly sagebrush and rocks. Play equipment consisted of an old swing set, two monkey bars, and a piece of blacktop measuring about 35 by 50 feet, t was obvious the little school was a bare minimum facility lacking many advantages enjoyed by all the other schools in the county school district. I knew right away it was a place where Bobbi and I could make a difference for the children coming to Kelly School. The little school need all the help it could get and the children and we could make it happen. For Bobbi leaving the town elementary meant leaving her friends, not going out for lunch, having to schedule hair appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands with built in travel time from Kelly 15 miles to town. We talked for many days considering all the plusses and minuses. I was excited when Bobbi one day said she would be willing to take on Kelly School if she could have grades 3-6 in the upper classroom withe the great view, and I take grades K-2 in the basement room. It was a done deal. In September of 1979 we would welcome 29 children to Kelly Elementary School. Next blog – Using the summer of 1979 to start critical improvements so badly needed. The plunge began when school closed in June of 1979.

Kelly School – A New Challenge

September 13, 2013

My first year of teaching in Jackson Middle School ended with the narrow approval of a bond issue for a new Jackson Hole High School.  Doing most of the leg work for bond issue was time consuming, and I was relieved when it was over and proved successful by just 44 votes.  My second year at the middle school would have a surprise of its own.  The school district was short on classrooms.  The superintendent of schools realized there was space available at the two room Kelly School in the village of Kelly, fifteen miles northeast of the town of Jackson.   The little school had only twelve students. It could easily  handle thirty or forty.  He planned to have students from Moose, Wyoming and the airport/golf course area bussed to Kelly School instead of attending the over crowded Jackson Elementary School.  He knew there could be opposition from parents not wanting their students used to solve enrollment problems and moved to a tiny two room school that lacked the facilities enjoyed by the rest of the schools in the school district.  The superintendent knew he would have to make lots of promises to the parents of the Moose/airport/golf course area students t counter any opposition.  First he decided to promise a remodel of the interior of the two room school.  Next he would promise to build a badly needed playground.  The final promise he made was to assign two master degree teachers to be the staff of the enlarged enrollment.  My wife, Bobbi and I were the two teachers in his plan.  We were called to his office where he made his plan known to us.  This became a huge issue for the two of us.  Should we accept the challenge?  What grades would each of us teach?  Did we want to be isolated from our colleagues?  Would we want to teach three or four grades in each of our classrooms?  Would we want to be on lunch and recess duty everyday?  The superintendent gave us time to think it over.  For a month during the spring of 1979 we wrestled with the decision.  Next blog – Taking the Plunge

Raising enough money, at last!

March 4, 2013
With the bond issue for the new high school passing by just 44 votes out of over 2200, the school superintendent advised me to keep a low profile and stay out of sight for a while.  He said I was loved by half of the voters and hated by the other half.  I did stay out of sight as much as possible, but at a meeting concerning education one of the county’s large land owners and a town official gave me a shove as we stood in the hallway after the meeting.  Next day, he called to say he was sorry probably because I had grounds for pressing charges.

It turned out that the bond issue would fall short of providing enough money to finish the new high school.  The bond issue was limited by state law and no more could be put on the issue. The next project was to find more money.  We turned to our local AM radio station, KSGT, and had a fund raising radio-thon on a Saturday morning.  People were very generous and called the station all morning to pledge their gifts.  We raised $250,000.  Still that was not enough, so the school district appealed to the State Land Board and received another million dollars.  When the high school was finished, the whole building cost less than some single family homes in our valley.

After that 1978-79 school year my wife, Bobbi, was hired to teach fifth graders in the town elementary school.  The principal who said he did not hire older teachers was no longer around to stand in the way of the hiring a great experienced teacher.  With the bond issue behind me, I now had time to complete the research and write my first children’s book.  The 1978-79 school year was less hectic, but the spring of 1979 would see everything change.  Once again the superintendent of schools ask me to come to his office for a meeting.  Right away I wondered what momentous plan he had for me this time.  It would end up being one of the greatest challenges of not only my life but of the lives of my whole family.  It would be all consuming, full of outright battles, full of joys, full of successes, and full of opportunities to do wonderful things for students.  Be back with more soon.