Steamboat Springs Soroco High School agriculture teacher Byron Dean recalls former student Jay Whaley being one of his best.
Dean is retiring at the end of the school year after three decades with the district, and Whaley, a 1992 Soroco graduate, will take his place.
“I’m really happy that it’s one of my former students, that he understands the system and is part of the community,” Dean said.
After his graduation from Soroco, Whaley earned his agricultural education degree from Colorado State University. He then taught agriculture at Cheyenne Wells High School in Cheyenne Wells, which is just west of the Colorado-Kansas state line and south of Interstate 70.
Whaley said when a job opened at the Routt County Extension Office, he took the opportunity to return home. Whaley is the 4-H extension agent, and he said leaving the Extension Office was a tough decision.
“I’ve worked here for 12 years,” Whaley said. “I have a very vested interest in the success of the program. I’ve been in 4-H forever. My grandmother was in 4-H in Routt County.”
He added, “I have a passion for ag. I can get hands-on with the kids every day. That was important to me, too.”
Whaley said he would continue working as 4-H extension agent through summer.
Knowing that his retirement would come soon, Dean said he’s been encouraging Whaley for a couple of years to consider the job. Whaley said it’s a good fit for him. He lives in South Routt and coaches wrestling at Soroco, which he will continue to do in his new role.
With Whaley, Dean added, the transition will be smooth.
Soroco High School Principal Dennis Alt said Whaley would teach all of Dean’s classes. Those are: agricultural mechanics, Agriculture 1 and 2, advanced agricultural science and advanced agricultural shop and horticulture, a new class.
Grant funding allowed the district to buy a greenhouse, Alt said. He said the agriculture classes and National FFA Organization would use the greenhouse starting next year to grow produce for the district’s cafeterias and flowers to sell during fundraisers.
Whaley also will serve as the FFA sponsor for the South Routt chapter, Alt said. Whaley’s 10-month contract will allow him to work with FFA students on the summer FFA convention, on the county fair and with their projects in June, after the school year has ended.
Whaley said he’s excited to get started. Alt also is looking forward to his arrival.
“Obviously, it’s tough to lose a 30-year veteran who has that experience and knowledge,” Alt said about Dean. “It’s comforting to know we have an alumni of the program coming in, someone coming in who’s familiar with agriculture and the community.”