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A special affection for those with special needs

by: VERN UYETAKE - Ken Welch is retiring after 46 years in education, 31 of which were served in the West Linn-Wilsvonville School District. He has served as the districtâs director of student services for the last 20 years.

Director of student services retires after 46 years in education


When Ken Welch leaves his office for the last time on Friday at 3 p.m. and walks out the front door of the school district office, he will ring the large school bell 46 times, one for each year of his work in education.

The district's director of student services found his way into education in an unusual way - by driving a school bus. While attending Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Welch took a part-time job driving a couple of routes.

"I ended up falling in love with the kids," Welch said. He then learned he had an affection for those with special needs.

"I liked the kids with unique situations," he said, adding that he signed up for all the bus routes for kids with special needs.

Welch started teaching in 1966 and worked at the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels, claiming not to have a favorite but liking them each in their own way.

Hailing from Idaho, Welch worked in a variety of locations, including Wyoming,

Eugene and Baker City along with two stints in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

He started as an elementary teacher in the Eugene School District in 1966, then advanced to an elementary and special education teaching position for the Baker City School District in 1968, staying until 1972.

He then came to West Linn as a special education and language arts teacher and football coach at the then Willamette Middle School and worked at the high school as a special education teacher, department head and ski racing coach. He stayed until 1977.

He also worked at the college level as an assistant professor in special education at the University of Wyoming from 1977 to 1983. But after that stint, he realized he would rather be working in public education. So he joined a school district in Wyoming as a K-12 principal from 1983 to 1986.

"I thought I could make a bigger contribution doing that," Welch said. "I wanted

to get back to the front lines. I fell back in love with it and I said, ‘This is what I want to do.'"

Having a young family of his own, Welch and his wife, Bobbie, moved back to West Linn in 1986 to be near extended family.

"I had kept track of the school district and what

was happening," Welch said. "It was the place to be. It

was growing and moving forward."

Welch was hired as the principal at Cedaroak Park Primary School in 1986 and then served as principal at Wilsonville Primary School from 1990 to 1992.

For the last 20 years, Welch has been the district's director of student services, managing special education across the district.

"I like the expanse of it. We're really dealing with kids from birth to age 21," Welch said. "I get to be in all the schools all the time I want."

Because of his length of service, Welch has seen students grow up and become successful adults thanks to the programs he helped provide.

He spoke of one student with severe mental illness who struggled in the district for 13 years but now has a job.

"No one ever thought that would happen. But he made it," Welch said. "The district had the foresight to think of kids getting to work, not just getting to college. That makes me very proud."

To fill his teaching needs, Welch is also an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he may continue after retirement.

Retirement will be a new adventure for Welch and his wife, who is also retiring this year after 17 years in the district, most recently working as an instructional assistant at

Cedaroak Park Primary School.

"We're heading off to this next chapter together," Welch said.

Welch said they have not taken many vacations over the years, noting that one summer they actually had five weeks off from work, the longest time off for both of them. However, they plan to visit some old friends in Germany this summer. "We are going to Europe during the Olympics to take advantage of everyone being in London," he joked.

He plans to spend time with his three grown children and has a grandchild expected this fall.

He said is considering volunteering in the schools but wants to invest in his interest of autos. He has restored a 1984 Volkswagen camper bus and plans to rebuild an old Volkswagen transporter truck with his eldest son.

He is also tinkering with the idea of going back to college to learn about electronics, math and Spanish.

"My Spanish is pretty bad. I need to do something about that," he said.

But Welch will miss working for the district, having worked with each of the four superintendents.

"I see this common thread - committed to excellence," Welch said. "It's been just a satisfying life."

Jennifer Spencer-Iiams will replace Welch as the director of student services, coming from the Woodburn School

District.