If you ask several different people at Camas High School to describe teacher Ron Wright, chances are their responses will be similar. Passionate. Dedicated. Patient. Sincere. A visionary. Kind.
These are just a few of the things that colleagues, administrators and students had to say about Wright, who serves as a Math, Science and Technology Magnet Program teacher.
Wright, 63, also coordinates student internships at local businesses, serves as research project advisor and mentors students in several extracurricular programs.
“He connects students with opportunities,” said Steven Marshall, CHS principal. “Whether it is Science Olympiad, the State Science and Engineering Fair, or internships, students get excited and their excitement inspires Ron. He does not just tell them about these events, he motivates them, supports them, and prepares them for success. He is truly a mentor. What amazes me is that he mentors so many students.”
In addition, Wright leads the Science Olympiad program, teaches an Advanced Placement computer programming class, serves as a volunteer coach for students involved in the State Science and Engineering Fair, and plans to launch a new robotics class.
However, if you ask Wright about these activities and his involvement, he is likely to brush off praise and put the focus back on the students.
“I do it because the kids seem to want to do it, and if I didn’t help out it probably wouldn’t be happening,” he said. “I am just trying to keep ahead of the kids, giving them the best experience I can, and undoing some of the conformist structure our system works into their bones.”
Wright doesn’t shy away from saying what’s on his mind, and gave the example of how he sees education as mostly operating under an 1800s model.
“I had the privilege several years ago to serve as a basic practicum supervisor for new teachers, and saw first hand while observing the 19 teachers-to-be how we mold the kiddos into mannikins,” he said. “It’s good for the industrial age, but not for the information age, where the only resource remaining to exploit is the human resource. And I do enjoy hinting at that concern to kids who can hear.”
Marshall gave an example of how Wright wrote a proposal to redesign the school’s academic program around programs of study, essentially the high school equivalent of college majors.
“He and I discussed that proposal and in the process we de-constructed it,” Marshall recalled. “We asked the questions: What is really at the heart of this? Why do we need this new model? We concluded that his idea had merits and it had drawbacks. We also agreed that what was most enduring about it was his desire to make high school relevant to the 21st century and accommodate student interests.”
From that sprang the Futures Committee, comprised of staff, parents and students in the work of reinventing CHS for the future.
“Together we have all tried to envision what kind of school we would like to see in five or 10 years so we can direct the increased population and facility expansions we know are coming rather than react to them by doing more of what we have always done,” Marshall said.
Sam Greene, an English and history teacher, has known Wright for 10 years, and worked closely with him in the magnet program for five.
“Ron is the heart and soul of so many programs and activities at Camas High School,” he said. “He has been instrumental in developing the infrastructure for a successful magnet program, as well as the opportunity for students to participate in high powered summer research internships, Science Olympiad, and other extracurricular activities and pursuits.”
Greene also noted Wright’s passion for progressive change.
“Ron’s best characteristic as a teacher is his ability to think systemically about using whatever he’s working on to influence wider progressive change in the Camas School District,” he said. “The work he’s doing now will continue to ripple into other programs long after he’s retired, and moved on to other interests.”
A ‘ripple’ effect
Wright never planned to become a teacher. But in 1983, he was sitting around in his recently completed sailboat and running out of money.
“I heard that substitutes got paid $45 per day and I could easily live on that, have my summers off, and choose what days I wanted to work,” he said. “It sounded perfect. I picked up my teaching papers in a year and started out. One fateful day I subbed in an algebra class in Olympia and was supposed to teach the kids about functions, and I followed the script. It was boring and didn’t work.”
On the way to class the next day, Wright noticed a sign for a store called the “Frog Pond Grocery,” and became inspired.
“I thought of frogs jumping from lily pads in one pond to lily pads in another, and I abandoned the curriculum and taught about jumping frogs,” he said. “It worked perfectly and I left that day wondering if any of the kids would ever really remember what they clearly understood during that class. I will never know, but I decided I wanted my own class so I could make a difference and know that I made a difference.”
From there, he earned a bachelor of arts in education from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, and a master’s in school administration from Pacific Lutheran University in 1991.
Since then, Wright has taught all over Washington state, with the last seven years spent at CHS.
Students in the Magnet Program describe him as a dedicated teacher who always seems to be at school and willing to help.
“Honestly, I don’t think he ever goes home,” said Anna Roche, a ninth-grader and Science Olympiad member. “He’s very dedicated and very passionate about student success. He’s here all the time, ready to help people.”
Fellow student Hailey Dewey agrees.
“I think he is passionate about school and always here working on things,” she said. “Even after tennis practice, he is still here. Mr. Wright is a great teacher and I really enjoy his help with research projects. He has high expectations and wants us to do our best.”
Casey Tolcser describes Wright as “different in a good way.”
“He doesn’t always teach from a traditional textbook. He has his own style, and makes the subject matter really engaging for Magnet students. I see him here on the weekends a lot, because he doesn’t ever seem to go home.”
When asked about this topic, Marshall recalled that Wright once set the building alarm off by leaving after midnight.
“He has not set off the alarm since but that is because he makes sure to deactivate it prior to midnight, not because he leaves for home any earlier,” Marshall said. “I send my fair share of late night e-mails, but the time stamp on Ron’s emails make me look like a shift worker. He spends late nights, weekends, and vacation days on campus working with students or on one of his many projects.”
Fellow teacher Kelly Williams describes him as a “get it done” person.
“Ron is a very friendly and sincere person who works well with students, parents and fellow staff members,” she said. “He has a great sense of humor and always seems to be very passionate about whatever he’s involved in.”
Parker Liebe, a junior, is part of the Science Olympiad team, which recently won state for the third year in a row.
“You don’t get this kind of experience anywhere else,” he said. “I love it. And I can’t even begin to describe how smart Mr. Wright is, and what he brings to the group. It’s so nice to work with him. He is great, easygoing and chill.”
Despite the drama that sometimes accompanies life as a teacher, Wright said at the end of the day, he is grateful.
“I like it that parents allow me to play grandpa to their kids, and then when they get too cranky, send them (and me) home,” he said. “And then they actually let me come back to (do it again) another day. Whoo-hoo! How amazing is that?”