After 21 years of service, Dennis Ells resigns from school board
With one rap of the wooden gavel, Dennis Ells ceremoniously ended his last Westfield Washington School Board meeting on Dec. 10. Ells, who will resign from the board at the end of the month, holds the record as the longest tenured member in the district’s history.
“It’s been 21 and a half remarkable years,” he said.
Ells began his public service in July 1992. He initially ran for a seat out of a desire to become involved in his children’s school district.
“I wanted what was best for my kids,” he said.
After talking with others and getting petition signatures, Ells ran for the school board and has been unopposed ever since.
“No one wanted to run or thought I was silly,” he said. “You’re just a citizen in the City of Westfield. The only power you have is a quorum – your main responsibility is making and enforcing policies and hiring a superintendent,” he said. “I’ve been president four or five times. You just lead the meetings.”
When Ells began his first term, he described the district as “a mess” – a 180 degree turn from today’s situation.
“After a few years the board controlled the schools for a year. We took over the budget and got the school back into financial shape,” he said. “There were a lot of ugly executive meetings.”
During his tenure, Ells has worked with three superintendents and one interim. One of his favorite decisions – and one of the things Ells is most proud of – was the hiring of Mark Keen 16 years ago.
“He’s the best thing that ever happened to this school district. He’s established trust between the board and teachers,” Ells said.
Ells also holds a unique distinction – his name is on the plaque inside every Westfield school as all corporation buildings have been opened since he started on the board.
“Being in construction, I’ve always been interested in that,” he said. “The construction part has been interesting.”
Ells said he enjoyed going into the buildings and seeing what the students were doing, hearing stories about student achievements and success at board meetings and handing out diplomas to WHS graduates, including his three children.
“In my first year, the graduating class was 100 students. The 2012 graduating class had more than 400 people,” he said.
In his 21 years, Ells has voted on several controversial items including the fiber optics line for the district and city government, building elementary schools with the same model (saving hundreds of thousands of dollars) and the building of the high school.
“People wanted to do it off site and there was talk of two high schools – splitting and growing,” he said.
Westfield Washington Schools will always hold a special place for Ells. The administration center is on the site of his former grade school. He graduated from Westfield High School in 1971.
“Any mischief at the high school back then, I was probably involved in it,” he said.
Ells planned to end his public service at the conclusion of his fifth term.
“I wasn’t going to run last time but no one signed up. I said, ‘I’ll give it another year or two,” he said. “My plate is full with my involvement with church and being busy with life in general. I promised my wife I’d slow down.”
Ells has stepped away from his responsibilities as Mts. Runn Baptist Church choir director and is planning to work in public together with his wife.
“It’s just time,” he said. “It’s very bittersweet. For me to not come around is difficult.”
Meet Dennis Ells
Family: Wife, Tamara, and children, Tonya, Jason and Sam, all Westfield graduates.
Favorite subject in school: “I loved biology. I think it was the only course I aced.”
Work: A former carpet store owner, Ells is a sales manager with Custom Concrete Co. in Westfield and recently bought a new business, Monkey Bar Storage.
Hobbies: Being active at Mts. Runn Baptist Church and spending time with family.
Greatest accomplishment: “Finding my wife of 39 years.”
Personal quote: “My dad always said, ‘If there is anything worth doing, it’s worth doing right.’ I’ve adopted that.”