After 37 years in the Prince Rupert School District, Sheila Wells is retiring.
Sheila spent her entire career in public education in the community, starting as a phys-ed and foods teacher at Prince Rupert Secondary School (PRSS) in the late ’70s and ending as principal of École Roosevelt Park Community School.
“Sheila has always worked tirelessly on behalf of our students,” said Sandra Jones, superintendent of SD52.
“Her recent work at Roosevelt has reminded us of her incredible work ethic, strong belief in the abilities of every student to learn and succeed, and purposeful leadership.”
Interestingly, Sheila will retire at the same school she attended in kindergarten.
Shortly after Sheila was born, her family moved to Prince Rupert where her father had gotten a job at the Daily News as a printer and writer.
Sheila was the second of four children, having an older brother and two younger sisters. The Wells children were all active growing up, as both their parents were sport enthusiasts.
When it came time for Sheila to start kindergarten she was enrolled at Roosevelt, but only attended the school for a year before her family relocated to Vernon.
After spending five years at the University of British Columbia to earn an undergraduate degree in education, Sheila returned to Prince Rupert in 1978 to become a physical education and foods teacher at Prince Rupert Secondary School.
“I got to do the two things that I’m passionate about,” she recalled.
Not too long after, Sheila took up coaching at the school. Although it meant taking on extra responsibilities, it didn’t feel like more work for Sheila.
“I was a decent athlete in my time and have played provincially in five different sports. I also represented the University of British Columbia four times at Canadian championships in curling,” she said, noting she played basketball, field hockey and badminton when she was young.
For Sheila, highlights from her time as a teacher include witnessing three teams she coached win curling or bowling provincials and the joy winning gave the young athletes.
As a teacher, Sheila was able to travel the country and globe with students including a trip to California, England and France, as well as two separate trips to Japan.
“Travelling with students and seeing the different ways they develop out of the classroom is huge. I think it gives you a different insight into kids,” she said.
Before ending her time as a teacher, Sheila left her mark on SD52’s course selection. She is proud to have created a certified physical education course that incorporated outdoor activities in Prince Rupert into a credited course.
After a number of years, Sheila moved on to become a counsellor at Prince Rupert Secondary School, and eventually principal in the early 2000s.
“As a counsellor, Sheila worked to help students meet the mark and graduate – something she continued as a principal – she always took time to connect with students when she could help them meet their goals,” said Supt. Jones.
To Sheila, standards are of utmost importance.
“I have certain expectations. I believe you put the bar high and push the kids to get there. I don’t believe in setting the bar low,” she said.
Perhaps one of Sheila’s proudest moments as principal of PRSS was overseeing the House Front project. In 2006, Sheila shook hands with Ts’msyen artist and PRSS alumni Russell Mather, with the stunning three dimensional piece of cedar artwork being completed in 2008. The House Front remains on display in the entranceway of the middle school.
Because of her involvement with the House Front, Sheila was adopted into the Gispaxlo’ats Sgyiik tribe in May, becoming an Eagle. Sheila asked that Mather be the person to honour her at the ceremony, where she was given the name Siadaawx, meaning to tell the story or make the story.
Sheila had been at PRSS for 33 years when the school was converted into Prince Rupert Middle School, working alongside a core group of educators for much of the time.
“It was like a big loss. Closing down a school, I never imagined I’d be doing that,” she said.
In the two years Sheila was principal of Charles Hays Secondary, she was a driving force in getting a greenhouse erected as part of the school’s horticulture program. She also oversaw the gym’s renovation to better reflect the joining of students.
Sheila changed posts again in 2013 when she took on her present role of École Roosevelt Park Community School’s principal.
For the first time in her more than 30-year career, Sheila was placed in a completely different environment than what she was used to.
“I was taller than the kids,” she first joked.
“The issues are different … they’re all in their developing years, but [every little thing is important to the younger kids].”
In the short time Sheila has led the team at Roosevelt there has been some unique initiatives launched at the school, including its Daily Physical Education program.
As part of the program, students gather in the gym each morning to dance, with teachers being able to meet and collaborate on their practices during this time.
“They have more time to work together as opposed to trying to find time outside of school,” Sheila explained.
“It’s a really good model.”
Another recent undertaking at Roosevelt is the creation of a Lego Room, which Sheila is excited to see open this week. Students will be able to use the Lego Room for hands-on activities to supplement learning, or as a reward or space to calm down in before returning to class.
Although Sheila said working with children is the best part of her day, she admits to looking forward to the next chapter of her life.
For the first part of her retirement, Sheila plans to dedicate more time to her hobbies, whether that’s spending time in her garden at home and the 18-raised beds at her Lakelse cabin, or using the vegetables she’s grown to whip up a new appetizer or entrée in the kitchen.
Sheila hopes to check-off one of her “must-dos” by attending an international cooking school in either Austria or Germany in the near future, but doesn’t plan on moving away from Prince Rupert or its residents anytime soon.
“I’ve really enjoyed the people here, and I’ve loved the students.”