Saying goodbye to Roger Woehl

West Linn-Wilsonville School District superintendent ends 44-year career in education
by: VERN UYETAKE At an event at the Oregon Golf Club Friday night, the West Linn-Wilsonville  School District superintendent celebrated his retirement with family, faculty and friends.

One of the things Roger Woehl will take into his retirement is 1,001 stories from his 18 years as superintendent of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

One of the funnier ones took place at the beginning of this past school year. As is his custom, Woehl was meeting and greeting students, and he caught the attention of one little lad in particular at Bolton Elementary School.

'He was looking up and staring at me and pulling his ears at the same time,' Woehl said. 'He said, 'You look familiar. Who are you?' I said, 'Well, I'm the superintendent of the school district.' Still pulling at his ears, he said, 'You know, you look just like a big elf.''

'Things like that keep him humble,' said Woehl's wife, Jeannie.

Truly, Woehl's nearly half century in the education profession has given him an incredible memory lane as he heads into retirement. However, as he nears the finish line of a race well run, he is experiencing an absolute crunch of work - such as hiring three new principals.

'Right now I'm still busy,' Woehl said. 'I'm going to keep July and August open and let the idea of retiring settle in. It will probably feel different.'

The signature opening event for Woehl's retirement will be an all-family hike in Southeast Utah in October with 18 family members.

'We've been hiking there for 17 years,' Woehl said. 'It ought to be entertaining. Some of our grandchildren will be coming for the first time.'

'I'm just excited,' his wife said. 'We'll be having lots of exciting times ahead for a lot of years while we're still healthy. It's nice to have him to myself.'

After the big hike, Woehl said, 'Maybe I'll sit on back of the deck and watch the flowers grow.'

Probably not. Woehl's drive for action and purpose won't be going into retirement, just going in another direction. He plans to be active with the organizations Africa Bridge and Basic Rights Oregon, for which he and Jeannie have appeared in a commercial for. Woehl is also concerned about environmental issues, especially water, 'not only in our own city but across the world.'

He can also look back over the tremendous changes while he was at the helm of the WL-WV school district.

'There were 3,000 kids here when I started,' Woehl said. 'There are 8,400 now. There are new facilities at Rosemont Ridge Middle School and Boones Ferry Primary, and two more schools will be on the ballot. Wilsonville has doubled in size, and West Linn has almost doubled in size.'

Dynamic growth has not been the only challenge for Woehl. The biggest challenge he faced came at the end of his career when school districts all over Oregon were forced to drastically cut their budgets due to the economic recession.

Woehl is extremely grateful for how the district school board and the citizens of West Linn responded to this problem.

'The economy dominated our thinking,' Woehl said. 'Part of the challenge was not being defeated by the economy. A lot of school districts let that challenge defeat them, and they gave up the idea of excellence. Here, we were able to keep our eye on being excellent. People here see the glass as half full, not half empty.

'A lot of school districts gave up, and I think that is sad. I think we've been up to the challenge. It hasn't been easy, but we are going to have excellence. We've created a legacy where students learn, have good relations with the community, are great thinkers and good researchers.

'The piece that has been just fabulous is seeing our kids grasping the idea of being world citizens, caring about the environment and wellness.'

In an age when test scores have become the main focus of education, Woehl said, 'We push good thinking and good learning. If we do that, test scores will follow. Good test scores are nice. We want more than that.'

Woehl is light-hearted as he starts a new trail in his life. He said is 'really pleased Bill Rhoads will be the new superintendent.'

Once he has time to relax, Woehl will do some reminiscing.

'Those 44 years went zipping by pretty fast,' he said.