After 21 years at WLHS, art teacher Lynn Pass is set to retire

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - WLHS art teacher Lynn Pass will retire this spring after working in the district for 21 years.About three years ago, Lynn Pass and her husband, Dave, attended their first Oregon Star Party in a remote spot near Prineville. The premise of the event was simple: to gather and gaze up at the sky on a clear and pristine evening.

“It was like glitter,” Pass said. “Like someone threw glitter against the dark sky, and seeing all the incredible things that are out there.”

The experience also gave her a strange feeling, that of being physically very small while also part of something impossibly large.

It was, in some ways, a metaphor for a 21-year teaching career that will come to an end this year when Pass retires from her position at West Linn High School. She is just one art teacher occupying a room in the northwest corner of the school, and yet her influence reaches far beyond those walls, as far away as Phoenix and Texas.

Since she arrived at West Linn High School in 1992, Pass has almost single-handedly transformed the school’s art program from a generic “Art I” class to a robust corps of concentrations including clay and animation, graphic arts, sculpture in clay and studio art. When Pass felt something was missing from the curriculum, she simply sat down and wrote out a course program from scratch.

“I kept writing new courses,” Pass said. “And kids kept signing up for them, and so now I feel like that was a contribution — that the kids have a lot more ability to experience a lot of different types of art now than when I came (to the school).”

Of course, it was through day-to-day teaching of those courses that Pass had her most lasting impact. The Indiana native was practically born an educator — it was the first and only thing she ever wanted to do.

When she played “school” as a child with her friends, she fell naturally into the teacher role. Later, as an undergraduate at Indiana University, she studied art and art education.

In 1987, Pass received her master’s degree from Indiana’s Department of Human Ecology/Family Relationships and Human Development. Following that, she worked as a child life specialist in Tampa, Fla., and Cleveland, Ohio, before taking time off to be with her young children.

In 1990, she was hired at the former Bolton Middle School, and two years later she signed on at WLHS.

Twenty-one years later, on a Wednesday afternoon just about a week after Pass announced her retirement plans, her classroom is abuzz with activity. It’s a combined acyclic painting, independent study and Advanced Placement Studio Art class, which creates a distinct juggling act that Pass — a busybody by nature — seems to thrive within.

Music plays as a backdrop and the room is filled with chatter as students gather materials for their respective TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lynn Pass addresses students during her AP Studio and Painting class.

“It’s a really loose and kind of crazy environment,” said Emeric Kennard, a senior who has taken classes with Pass since her freshman year. “It’s a very nice space to come to, and even though Ms. Pass has so little time because she has so many students to manage, any time you need something or have a question for her, she’s always there.”

For Kennard, Pass’ lasting impact will be encouraging self expression — consequences be damned.

“The concentration series that I’ve done in Ms. Pass’ class have been highly controversial,” Kennard said. “Dealing with social issues, and they had things like language or nudity in them. And Ms. Pass has always encouraged me to draw what I wanted to, express what I wanted to.

“When you get the opportunity to talk to her as a person and not as a teacher, she’s very supportive, and that meant a lot to me.”If some believe that pursuing art as a profession is fruitless, akin to dreaming of professional sports stardom or life on the road as a famous musician, Pass feels obligated to fight that perception.

“I always tell my students: Whatever you’re passionate about, that’s what you should be doing,” Pass said. “And on occasion over the years I’ve had people who’ve been talented in art and they love it, but they’ve gone off in a different direction. And frequently they come back to it because they realize life is pretty short and that if you find and do what you’re passionate about, you can be successful.”

Laura Sapp, a former student who entered WLHS at the very same time Pass was hired in 1992, took those words of advice to heart. Now a full-time graphic designer based in Houston, Sapp still talks to Pass on a weekly basis, bouncing ideas off of her mentor like she once did in the classroom.

“She was and is probably the single biggest influence on my life,” Sapp said. “I’ve done a lot of freelance stuff over the years and I even asked her recently, ‘Do you think this is a good idea? Should I go this direction?’ and she’ll give me advice.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Art teacher Lynn Pass consults with sophomore Emily Gibson.In Phoenix, Pass’ influence abides not in a painting or graphic logo, but instead within the walls of another classroom. Jim Piazza took classes with Pass in 1998 and 1999, and he remembers those years as what pushed him into his own education career. After completing Art I and Art II with Pass in high school — which, as he puts it, was “enough to jumpstart me” — Piazza returned to WLHS in 2007 to work alongside her as a student teacher.

Now, Piazza spends his days teaching three-dimensional design at Cortez High School in Phoenix. Once a pupil, Piazza now considers himself more of a colleague and consistently finds inspiration from her curriculum.

“I feel blessed to have been a part of that career twice — to be taught and teach alongside her,” Piazza said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more dedicated art teacher.”

And make no mistake, that dedication hasn’t flickered. Pass considers herself as motivated as ever and still wakes up every day with a genuine sense of excitement.

“I get up in the morning and I’m like, ‘Oh, so and so is working on that piece. It’s gonna be so cool to see what they do with it,’ ” Pass said. “I truly enjoy my time here — I love working with my colleagues as well. We have people who are here because they want to teach and I think that’s so valuable.”

Pass simply wants to leave on a positive note, before anything resembling fatigue begins to creep in. And there’s plenty left to accomplish on her life’s checklist.

She’ll travel cross country with Dave in the Airstream trailer they bought a few years back and play her ukulele at the campsites. She’ll hole up in her personal studio at home and work on an array of projects, from painting to glass sculpture and printmaking. She’ll take classes at Bullseye Glass or Portland State University, never satisfied with her breadth of expertise. She might even write a children’s book.

“I’m never bored,” Pass said. “I don’t have that problem. It’s like, ‘What am I going to focus on the most?’ ”

For 21 years, the answer to that question has always been simple: her students. And that fierce dedication, more than anything else, is what West Linn will lose at the end of the year.

“There’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Piazza said. “There’s a legacy at that school left by her.”

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