Bob Ranells knew a lot about education, but very little about mining when he moved to Wallace. The longtime Idaho teacher and school leader was hired as the district’s superintendent and he vowed to learn about mining, the community’s economic driver.
Mining and school activities are the heart and soul of his families and students.
“One of the first things we did when we came here… we said we want to go see where these people work,” Ranells said. “That was a good start in relationship building. We saw what they have to live in day to day.”
Ranells made multiple visits to the mine. He also embedded himself in the community and all school activities.
He joined civic groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Elks Lodge and Frank A. Morbeck Community Foundation.
He took on other roles besides superintendent, including football coach, basketball and golf coach and bus driver.
He embraced the rural lifestyle and the community embraced him. He’s starting his 10th year in Wallace and has no plans to retire.
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“Hanging out on a golf course all day or sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch is overrated,” Ranells said. “I am a lucky superintendent because I get to end every single day with kids. I deal with adults every day as well, but at the end of my day I get to go to football practice or drive the bus.”
Ranells not only spends time with the kids in Wallace, he also builds relationships with the adults. He is a big fan of a book called “Schools Cannot Do It Alone,” which illustrates students benefit from building partnerships and alliances with community members and businesses.
“He makes us make better decisions because he is very good at seeing the bigger picture,” said Art Fleming, president of the Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce. “He is very open to other people’s inputs. He is always looking for ways to build partnerships so the students get the best advantage they can.”
This involvement has paid off for Ranells. He said the community has become supportive of the district and the children have thrived.
“The community has been most gracious and supportive for our schools, even to a fault sometimes,” Ranells said. “They want their kids to get a good education and maybe get themselves into a situation where they don’t have to be miners.”
Young families are moving away from Wallace for jobs in bigger cities such as Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, taking kids with them. It’s a funding and service challenge, faced by many rural districts in Idaho.
“Small schools and small communities are dying — there is declining enrollment like crazy,” Ranells said. “Thank God the mines have remained open here. We’ve been better off than most small schools and I empathize with my colleagues. We are just a heartbeat away from that happening here.”
The new citizens moving into the Wallace district don’t have children. Retirees settling in the Silver Valley are not as eager to pay higher taxes or pass school levies.
Ranells counters by making school facilities open to the public. Wallace High School hosts community and civic events in the evenings.
“After all, it is theirs,” he said.
Ranells credits much of his success to his wife, Mary Ann. She is also a lifelong educator who most recently served as superintendent of the Lakeland School District and has served as deputy superintendent at the State Department of Education. Mary Ann retired last year to spend more time with their children and grandchildren.
Bob and Mary Ann, who have nearly 80 years of education experience, last year started a consulting firm, Ranells’ Treehouse Consulting LLC.
Bob said they are rolling out Ranells’ Treehouse slowly, but Mary Ann has worked with school staffs on topics such as mentoring and professional learning communities.
This summer Mary Ann conducted trainings for the Idaho School Boards Association and school in San Diego and Fresno, Calif. She is scheduled to meet with Boise State University graduate students later this fall.
“You put as many years in as we have and you get the brilliance that she has, you need to be sharing that,” Bob said.