BIG HORN — A few months ago, Richard Welch didn’t envision many significant changes in his job for the 2018-19 school year.
However, when former Big Horn High School principal Ben Smith resigned in June to take a superintendent job in Big Horn County, Welch — the Big Horn Middle School principal and activities director for the past three years — knew he may need to step up.
After a hiring search for Smith’s replacement yielded no suitable candidates, Welch will serve as interim BHHS principal for one year in addition to remaining BHMS principal and AD.
The Sheridan County School District 1 board of trustees finalized Welch’s new job title during its July 18 meeting.
This year will mark Welch’s 29th year in Big Horn. He served as a Spanish teacher — primarily at the high school — for the first 20 years, then BHHS/BHMS assistant principal and BHMS activities director for the next five years before becoming principal at the middle school in 2015.
In addition to about 90 students at BHMS, Welch will now oversee around 130 additional students at BHHS.
“It’s everything,” Welch said of his additional duties. “The learning of the kids, ACT tests, graduation. Things are a little more high-stake at the high school.”
SCSD1 superintendent Pete Kilbride said the hiring committee received about a dozen applications and offered the BHHS position to one applicant, who declined because he didn’t want to leave his current district shortly before the school year began.
Welch was not formally interviewed, but Kilbride said Welch’s experience spoke for itself. Welch will receive an additional stipend for the added responsibilities.
Welch added that he feels comfortable having the relationship and support of Kilbride. The two were counterparts for the last few years when Kilbride served as Tongue River Middle School principal.
“Both of us are going through situations that we didn’t anticipate,” Welch said. “We both got jobs that we didn’t (formally) apply for. That sounds kind of silly to say, but it’s the truth of the matter.”
Welch grew up the son of teachers in northern Utah, so he had always considered being an educator. A year-and-a-half mission trip to Honduras at age 19 solidified Welch’s plan to teach Spanish.
He became a teacher in Big Horn immediately after college and has stayed since 1990. He enjoys the positive community and called it a great place to live and teach.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people like me anymore who stay at one school for 29 years,” Welch said.“I just haven’t found a place with greener grass.”
Welch is looking forward to working more closely with high school students he interacted with in middle school. He is also excited about leading collaborative meetings between the 19 instructors at the two schools.
The most challenging aspect will involve finding the proper balance between the two schools. Welch will need to devote enough attention to the budgets, staff, students and parents at both levels.
“That stuff keeps me up just thinking about it,” Welch said. “Great support has been expressed to me already from parents, from kids, from the staff members, so that’ll get me a long ways, knowing that for the most part people support me.”
To help balance his duties, Welch plans to spend two days focusing on the middle school and two days focusing on the high school. The schools share a building, so Welch will keep his first-floor middle school office and also have a second-floor high school office.
The time commitment will be a challenge as well because Welch will supervise most extracurricular and athletic activities Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Welch is approaching the new job as a one-year commitment but is aware that circumstances can change quickly in education. Kilbride said the district will likely begin the BHHS hiring process again in spring 2019, depending on what the school board decides to do.
Along with Welch taking on the additional role, SCSD1 will have three new administrators. Kilbride will begin his tenure as superintendent, while Jeff Jones will replace Kilbride as TRMS principal. Colby Lynch will also embark on his first year as Tongue River High School principal.
“With a group of six administrators in the district and having new ones and [Welch] filling a third role, it’s very different,” Kilbride said. “It’s also pretty exciting. I think the people we brought on board — they do have administrative experience and bring a wealth of knowledge from their own district, so we’re very excited to have the team that we have.”
Welch wasn’t looking for a new job, but he believes this opportunity will help him improve by forcing him out of his comfort zone.
“It’s not necessarily something I was seeking,” Welch said. “It’s a little bit of surprise that way … But we learn best when we’re right on that edge of our comfort zone, and this is definitely going to push me there, and I welcome that challenge.”
Welch has plenty of experience and support in Big Horn, but new challenges await in his 29th year in the district.