UNION — Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells starts each day expecting to be surprised.
Still, none of his wildest expectations could have prepared him for the surprise he received on Monday, May 3.
Wells received the Doug Flatt Memorial Leadership Award.
“I was extremely shocked,” Wells said, also noting nobody dropped the faintest of hints about possibly receiving the award.
The Mid Columbia Bus Company and InterMountain Education Service District sponsor the award. Flatt was the chief executive officer of Mid Columbia who died in a plane crash in 2003. The purpose of the Doug Flatt Leadership Award is to recognize a school administrator in a district Mid Columbia serves who exemplifies the same qualities Flatt was well known for.
IMESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill presented the award to Wells at the annual Union County Crystal Apple Excellence in Education ceremony at La Grande Middle School. Mulvihill had high praise for Wells.
He said under Wells, Union’s superintendent since 2013, the school district has had significant improvement in test scores, staff retention and graduation rates. Mulvihill said Wells’ signature achievement was the role he played in voters passing an $8 million bond package in 2019 to upgrade the school district’s aging facilities.
The award puts Wells in select company. Each year only one administrator in the school districts and community schools the InterMountain Education Service District contracts with in Union, Umatilla, Baker and Morrow counties receives the Doug Flatt Leadership Award. The four counties have 18 school districts the IMESD serves plus Nixyaawii Community School on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
“Carter Wells is a longtime educator who has positively impacted hundreds of staff and students over the years. I consider him a colleague and friend and admire the work he does on a daily basis,” Mulvihill said in a press release.
Mendy Clark, the Union School District’s deputy clerk, said one of Wells’ best qualities is his belief in the potential of students.
“He believes every student can succeed, every single one,” Clark said.
Chuck Moore, region vice president of Mid Columbia Bus Company, said he was pleased that Wells was the recipient of the award.
“We know Carter is a hardworking and dedicated superintendent who wears many hats in the district and the community of Union. As a longtime partner with the Union School District, we at Mid Co have seen firsthand the caring commitment Carter puts forth to the students, parents and staff of the District,” Moore said in a press release.
Wells does a multitude of tasks for the district, from running lawn mowers on occasion in the summer to counseling students about their graduation status and monitoring lunch periods. He thrives on the variety and the fact he cannot predict what each day will hold.
“It makes the job fun and exciting. You never know what you will face,” Wells said.
Wells first joined the Union School District in 2008 as its high school principal. He began his career as a social studies teacher in the La Grande School District in 2002 and then worked for five years in the Umatilla School District. Wells graduated from Eastern Oregon University in 2002 and earned a master’s degree in education administration from Concordia University in November 2009.
Wells comes from a family with a proud education legacy. He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Thomas Wells, who was a longtime school administrator in Oregon and was superintendent of the Astoria School District about six decades ago.
“I was close to him while I was growing up. It is an honor to be following his path,” Wells told The Observer in 2013.
Wells also draws inspiration from his wife, Kailin.
“I would not be the person I am today if I had not married Kailin 20-plus years ago,” Wells said.
The superintendent said the Flatt Award is a reflection of not his skills but of the wealth of talented educators in Northeastern Oregon who have taught him.
“I put to use what I have learned from them on a daily basis,” Wells said. “This award is a reflection of the amazing people of this region.”