East, Wes, Home is Best
The Spotlight interviews assistant principal Wes Ashley about his life leading up to his departure from the East High School and his future ambitions.
Where are you from?
I’m from a small town on the western slope. It’s a little mining-country-cowboy-town called Ridgeway, Colorado. To tell you where it is geographically, it’s near Telluride, Colorado. So if you know where the ski area is it’s about 20 miles from there.
How has working in an urban setting impacted you?
Big influence. I was going to be a miner, that was my whole goal in life because that’s what we did. We didn’t go to college. My mother was a dropout, got pregnant in 8th grade and had my brother, then had me when she was about seventeen years old, so she didn’t finish school. Me and all my classmates plan was to go work in the Hardrock Mines, the gold mines. Then an art teacher told me, ‘You’re really talented in art, why don’t you become an art teacher?’ She helped me fill out the paperwork and the rest was history. I went to college.
What was your high school experience like?
My graduating class in high school had 14 kids in it. There were about 120 kids in the school, about as many teachers as there are here at East High School.
Where did you start at East?
I started in a pseudo-administrative role. I worked in the dean’s office. At that time there was just me, we only had 1,300 kids there, so it was me and a couple of teachers who filled in a couple hours a week to help out. But it was pretty much me running the whole show.
What about administrative work attracted you?
I love school. I always liked school. I never ditched school. I was in a small town so if you ditched everyone knew what you were doing and you’d get a whoopin’ when you got home. I didn’t ditch school in high school because my entire social life was centered around school. So when I went to college even though there were only 14 kids in my class, the valedictorian and the salutatorian both dropped out of college. I was the only one out of five of us that went that finished college because I liked it so much.
What was the most challenging time here at East?
The most challenging time I had was back in the gang days when the Crips and Bloods were really big. It felt like sometimes it was just me breaking up fights because I was the only one here. So I’d be trying to grab two kids at one time. The Crips used to come up to the school everyday after school, and we’re not talking old guys these were 21-29 years old. They would jump out of cars ready to fight people and fight the other gang members that were here. It seemed like I was the only one trying to break things up. They’d jump out with tire irons and clubs and things like that. It was kind of crazy back then. I didn’t mind jumping in but it felt like sometimes I was riding a bull, they were big!
What does your future look like?
My wife is a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines and I fly around with her sometimes. So I thought as a retirement job I’d like to fly. I’ve been here for twenty years. Quite a while. I have 29 years in DPS and 2 years outside of that. This is my 31st year of being in education.
What’s 31 years of high school like?
I have gone to more proms than anyone I know. Think about that, 31 proms, 31 graduations not counting my own, 31 homecomings, a million football games, basketball games, I’ve done it all. I’m really gonna miss this school because the reason I stayed here is because I love it so much. But it’s time for me to go. Younger administrators are gonna come in and do as good a job or better than I’ve done. I’m gonna miss this school. And the kids. And the teachers. And Mr. Mendelsberg. Andy and I have gone a long ways back, we were in the dean’s office together, we’ve been friends forever. I will miss his friendship.