Growing Their Own

For the first time, administrators for Wells Combined School are alumni

Story by Dianna Troyer

Tina, the school’s vice principal, consults with Principal Robert Woolsey. Both administrators are Wells High School graduates. Photo by Amy Hunsaker

For educators at Wells Combined School, the goal is simple: Help students find their “why.”

“That’s what we envision for each of our students—what we want to help them discover,” says Robert Woolsey, Wells Combined School’s new principal and longtime social studies teacher.

“We have hundreds of motivational sayings, some on posters throughout the school. At their core, it’s all about guiding students to find what excites them, what they have such a strong desire to accomplish that nothing can stop them.”

Tina Barger, the school’s new vice principal and a longtime science teacher, says she never tires of seeing students grow and transform.

“They can accomplish whatever they put their mind to,” she says. “I’ve seen it so often—their lightbulb coming on, being excited to learn more and more. They develop self-confidence and self-esteem, so they can succeed at whatever career paths they choose.”

Discovering their “why” years ago, Robert and Tina decided to teach— specifically, at their alma mater, Wells Combined School.

This fall, they are embarking on new roles in their careers as administrators.

For the first time, Wells High School alums are leading the school.

“We’re here to stay, to provide consistent, stable leadership,” Robert says. “Previously, administrators stayed only a couple of years. We grew up here, so we understand the community and the needs of students and expectations of parents.”

“Our children were students here,” Tina says. “My grandson is starting kindergarten. We’re vested in our community and school. With our experience teaching here, we know how to help motivate students.”

This month, they are counting on residents to support the school during a popular annual Halloween carnival that raises money for the school and clubs. A schedule will be posted on the school’s Facebook page.

“We know we can count on the community for help whenever we ask,” Tina says. “We really appreciate that strong support.”

Robert and Tina’s career paths in education were indirect, although both say their parents “ingrained in us the importance of education,” Robert says.

Tina Barger helps a student in her science laboratory at Wells Combined School. Photo courtesy of Tina Barger

After graduating from Wells High School, Robert earned a business management degree from the College of Southern Idaho in 1987. For the next 12 years, he managed his family’s business, Stuart’s Foodtown in Wells, and volunteered as a coach.

“I loved working with kids and decided to switch my career focus from business to education,” he says.

In 2000, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Great Basin College in K-12 education and high school social studies.

He began his education career the next year teaching social studies in Wells.

He earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Grand Canyon University in 2020.

Tina says she was inspired to become a teacher while attending junior high school in Montello.

“When I was in eighth grade, I enjoyed helping younger kids with their lessons and homework,” she says.

After she and her husband started a family in Starr Valley, she supplemented their children’s education with home schooling.

“I was pulled toward education when I saw how excited my kids were when they understood something new,” she says.

In 2007, she earned a bachelor’s degree in K-8 education from Great Basin College, and was hired as a long-term substitute at the combined school. A year later, she was hired full time.

“Five days before that school year started, there was an unexpected opening for a junior high science teacher, so that’s what I taught,” Tina says.

In 2009, she earned certification as a secondary science teacher, enabling her also to teach high school science.

With an eye toward a leadership role, Tina earned a master’s degree in educational administration/educational leadership from Grand Canyon University in 2015.

Robert and Tina say one of their greatest job satisfactions is teaching students who become teachers and go on to work throughout northern Nevada.

“We’re excited for the upcoming school year,” Robert says. “We’re both here for the students.”