Keeping the dream afloat

Bob Waggoner goes from teaching on a boat to school board

Bob Waggoner has a view overlooking Rock Creek from his deck. He is the newest school board member. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Bob Waggoner has a view overlooking Rock Creek from his deck. He is the newest school board member.

Imagine teaching on a sailboat for six months.

That’s what Bob Waggoner did.

Waggoner, 68, taught math and science to high school and college students on a three-masted schooner from December 1976 to May 1977.

The boat, which sailed from Portsmouth, England to Piraeus, Greece with stops in Tunis, Tunisia and Lisbon, Portugal, was a floating classroom, an adventure-based school that consisted of 44 students, five teachers and six crew members.

The main educational value of the trip was learning to live and work together, said Waggoner, who was recently appointed as a new school board member for the Montezuma Cortez School District.

The six-member boat crew trained the teachers and students on how to operate the 190-foot long, 560-ton boat.

Waggoner filled the open seat created when Beth Howell resigned in July and moved to Albuquerque, said Re-1 Secretary Linda Diffendaffer. Waggoner was the only applicant for the position, but brings a wealth of experience to the position.

Waggoner, a University of Minnesota graduate, grew up in Bertha, Minn. and taught school from 1966 to 1984. In his first teaching job, he taught math and science and was the junior high band director in Gaylord, Minn.

A rather fond memory for the silver-haired Waggoner was one fall when he served as the assistant marching band director for the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers. “I was a little over my head,” he said, noting he got the job through a friend. “I had a terrific time. I got to stand up on a 10-foot ladder in front of 60,000 fans (at Memorial Stadium, which was later torn down and replaced).”

Waggoner taught in an alternative school setting in Minneapolis from 1972 to 1976.

The school, which was funded by a federal grant, offered educational alternatives in the state’s largest city.

The class, called “Project Aware,” ranged from 16 to 35 students. It was an elective and the only class the students had for 10 weeks. It was basically an environmental studies class that involved going outdoors, canoeing, backpacking, bicycling, winter camping and rock climbing. Students also completed individual classroom projects.

“The kids sort of formed a family,” Waggoner said. “We had a reunion of this class two summers ago. The kids who came back said it had been a life-changing experience for them. For young people, those are really exceptional and informative experiences.”

He relates a story from his first teaching job in Gaylord, Minn. During his second of four years there, the school district remodeled his physics classroom. “It made a huge difference in the types of experiments we could do,” he said. “I was the same teacher, but I could offer a far better physics course than I did the first year. If people are saying the physical plant doesn’t matter,” he added, “that’s just not true. You’re not going to get as good a result (with an outmoded classroom). The room does make a huge difference.” In Cortez, “We’ve got an outdated high school building and a modern high school building will improve the instruction,” he said.

Waggoner has some prior school board experience, having served in the Spooner School District in Wisconsin. At a recent work-study session of the Re-1 board, Waggoner related how there was strong opposition to a new high school in Spooner. But after the bond passed and the new school was built, no one could be found who originally opposed it, he said.

“The new high school was a rallying point for the whole town. It can be a transformative thing.”

Waggoner also has experience with computers, having owned a computer business in Spooner for 17 years (from 1984 to 2001) that largely involved writing software for a beer distributor.

He sold that business and moved to Cortez in January 2011 with his wife, Leigh, who became the priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.

“As a teacher, he believes kids are capable of a lot. If we expect it of them, they will rise to it,” said Leigh, who took a computer class from Bob back in 1979 before they were married. “He’s a good teacher. He meets (students) where they are and takes it one step at a time.”

After the move to Colorado, Waggoner’s creative juices took over and he began working on an invention: a fold-up music stand that he’s building at an assembly plant in Dolores. He plans to have the first one available for sale in December. For more information, go online at