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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow COVE SCHOOLS' 'CONSTANT' RETIRES


Educational Wisdom: John Ott, left, the Cove School District's administrative assistant, talks with Cove High School student John Pfel. (The Observer/Dick Mason).
Educational Wisdom: John Ott, left, the Cove School District's administrative assistant, talks with Cove High School student John Pfel. (The Observer/Dick Mason).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

COVE — Cove School District administrator John Ott, a long-time car enthusiast, will shift gears at the end of this month when he retires.

Ott, however, will not shift into neutral.

Instead of idling, Ott plans to spend hours restoring old cars beginning with his current project, a three-window 1935 Chevy Coupe.

Restoring old cars is just one of Ott's passions. Another is restoring the hopes of struggling high school students.

During his 28-year career at Cove, the administrator has worked to keep at-risk students in high school.

Ott sometimes used his persuasive powers to get students to take the road less traveled. Case in point: he convinced one girl to take alternative education classes at Cove High School for two years after her class graduated. She received her diploma last year.

"We try to do things like this at a small school. We can give students more one-on-one attention,'' Ott said.

Ott's efforts have brought him numerous thank you cards from students years after they graduated.

"I like the way he cares about kids who were struggling. and need support,'' said Cove Elementary School teacher Nancy McKague. "He knows what is good for kids.''

Cove School District Superintendent Arnold Coe agrees.

"It comes naturally for him to be sensitive to what kids need,'' Coe said.

Ott taught math, metal shop and wood shop and served as the school district's administrative assistant at various times during his tenure in the school district.

As an administrative assistant for the past 13 years, Ott's responsibilities have been identical to those of a principal.

"From an administrative standpoint he keeps everything in mind all the time. He does not lose track of anything that needs to be done,'' Coe said. "I can't tell you how much I have appreciated his help.''

Ott worked under five superintendents in 13 years as an administrative assistant. He was a person teachers could look to for stability during times of rapid administrative turnover.

"We've gone through a lot of administrators and he's been the constant. ...He has been a tremendous mentor to all the teachers,'' said Cove High School Science teacher Bruce Macke.

Ott also frequently found himself in the role of a troubleshooter during his career.

"He always has a great sense of what the school needs and how to solve problems,'' Macke said. "He does not compromise, he comes up with a better idea.''

As an administrator, Ott often found himself in the position of being a disciplinarian, Macke said. It is not a role that Ott liked but it was one that he handled firmly and fairly.

"I never had the sense that students thought he was the bad guy, even when he was disciplining them,'' Macke said.

That Ott enjoys people is apparent to anyone who has watched him easily strike up a conversation with students in the hallway between classes, reassure upset parents at school board meetings or talk to anyone about old cars.

He has an ability to remain good natured even in trying circumstances.

"I don't believe that you can do this job angry,'' Ott said.

Ott grew up near Spokane and earned his education degree from Eastern Washington University. He taught at Pilot Rock High School for three years before moving to the Enterprise and Joseph areas for two years where he worked in private business in and in schools. In 1974 he moved to Cove with his wife Jane, who is now Imbler's postmaster, and took a position as an industrial arts teacher.

Sports fans remember Ott as a successful girls basketball coach. Ott coached the Cove girls from 1979 to 1988. His first team won the 1980 state Class 1A title.

It was an auspicious but unlikely debut. Ott took over the team after it lost its first five games. The Leopards went 22-0 after Ott took over.

Ott led Cove to the state Class 1A tournament six times.

"Those were emotional days but they were a lot of fun,'' Ott said.

Much of Ott's work as an educator was done with little fanfare.

"He did a lot behind the scenes to make things go. He was a good teacher and good friend of students and faculty,'' said retired Cove Elementary School teacher Monte Garrison, who now lives in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Otts' ties to the Cove School District run particularly deep because their children, Sherry and Brian, went to grade school and high school in Cove. They later graduated from Eastern Oregon University. Sherry now lives in Spokane where she is a financial trainer and Brian lives in Portland where he is a sales manager.

John Ott is looking forward to retirement but said that it will be hard to leave the school district.

"It was a super busy spring. I didn't have time to think about it,'' Ott said about retirement.

"It has been a good career. I wouldn't trade it for anything,'' he said.

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