When the curtain goes up Friday at Bend’s Mountain View High School for opening night of “Beauty and the Beast,” students will be in charge of nearly every aspect of the musical. And that’s just the way Rick Plants, 56, designed it.
Plants, who will retire at the end of this year, oversees the music in the show. He also runs the choral program at the high school, serves as the student activities coordinator and is the last remaining member of Mountain View’s original staff.
For the past 31 years, he’s made his living getting students to rise to his expectations, then persuading them to set the bar higher on their own.
“You just have to be honest, treat them with respect and make the program theirs,” he said. “They have to understand that when they’re onstage, it’s their program. It’s about them.”
Plants grew up in Corvallis and graduated from Oregon State University. Thinking he wanted to be a high school counselor, he decided to get his foot in the door at a school by becoming a teacher. He interviewed to be a music teacher at Bend’s Cascade Junior High, at what is now the administrative building. It was the only job he interviewed for, and when it came time to go back to school for that counseling degree, he decided to just focus on teaching music.
In 1976, he headed to the junior high and taught for a year before moving to Bend High and teaching double-shifts. The school was so crowded in 1977 that some students attended a morning shift and others an evening shift. Once construction at Mountain View was complete, he took over at the east-side high school.
At first, music and drama productions took place on the stage in the cafeteria.
“It was built really bare bones,” Plants said of the school. When it opened in 1978, “a third of the school wasn’t done. It was just a big cinder-block building. They cut corners in the gym, they cut corners in the cafeteria.”
When its auditorium finally opened in fall 1994, the school put on a big musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.”
While Plants said it’s hard to pick out highlights from his career, some things are very clear, like that first big production in 1994.
Or the time in 1996 when the department put on “Grease,” and Plants mailed some tickets to Kevin Costner, who was filming a movie, “The Postman,” in the area. Costner showed up after the show started and took off right before the end.
The auditorium, Plants believes, changed the choral and drama programs at the school.
“It set the bar higher in terms of what the kids wanted to do,” he said. “They rose to the level.”
Sean Corrigan, an assistant principal at Mountain View, was a junior in 1978 when he started at the high school. He never had Plants as a teacher, but his wife, Tracy, did, and Corrigan said Plants was one of her favorite teachers. In fact, he sang at the Corrigans’ wedding.
“He’s an icon,” Corrigan said. “You’ll never replace a guy like Rick.”
There may be 30 years between them, but current junior Dallin Jones feels the same way.
Dallin, 17, has had Plants as a teacher for three years, in choir and this year also in his leadership class.
“He’s by far my favorite,” Dallin said. “He’s extremely respectful of students. He’s easy to work with. Some teachers, the students and them clash. But he cares a lot about students and their opinions, and he’s an advocate for us.”
He’s participated in musicals and gone on retreats and organized student events with Plants.
“Pretty much anything that happens at the school, he’s involved in,” Dallin said. “It seems as though he lives at school.”
Dallin said he’ll miss Plants next year, and said he’ll hold on to what he’s learned from the teacher.
“I want to take the things he’s taught me and put those into the school,” Dallin said. “I want to keep as much of him in the school as possible.”
Plants teaches three choir classes at Mountain View: mixed choir, a freshman class, with more than 60 students; concert choir, with 120 students; and jazz choir, with 24 students selected from among the concert choir.
Nearly 30 trophies sit high on a shelf above an upright piano in the choir room. Plants said those don’t matter.
“We have tons of trophies. But it’s not the trophies — it’s the process of getting there,” he said. “I remember every class, and the kids are the highlights.”
Tom Barber taught with Plants for 20 years, from 1978 until his retirement in 1998. As the band director, Barber worked constantly with Plants.
What sticks out for Barber is Plants’ devotion.
“He’s a hard worker, that’s for sure. He went after everything 100 percent,” Barber said. “He went whole-hog all the time.
“He knew where he was going from the time he started. He was focused on what he wanted to do with his groups and he went after it.”
Plants said his rapport with students took awhile to develop. In 1982, he said, he noticed a student with his back to Plants, writing something on the wall. When Plants asked what he was doing, the student said he was keeping a tally of the number of times Plants had reprimanded the class that year. The number was near 55, he said.
“I realized I had to rethink the whole process,” he said. “What I learned is, you have to show them respect and treat them as adults. If you set the bar, they will rise to the occasion for you. They know they have to earn my respect. But they also know they don’t want to lose my respect.”
The other part of getting students to perform, Plants said, is putting them in charge.
“I put the responsibility on them. Yeah, I advise and I set things up, but I let them do it,” Plants said.
He doesn’t just do that with the choirs; Plants also serves as the student activities director, and has since 1990. Getting involved with student activities, Plants said, was a deliberate decision to keep the traditions and culture of Mountain View from disappearing.
“I felt we were losing that culture, and I didn’t want to see that happen,” he said. “(I wanted to keep the culture of) that ownership by kids.”
So he’s taught the executive board, which is the school’s student government, for 19 years. He’s been in charge of the dances and assemblies and overseen all the clubs, handled homecoming and prom and anything else that could fall under the umbrella of student activities.
And he’s loved it.
At many schools, the student activities coordinator is often the youngest teacher on the block, the one who gets talked into the position.
But Plants said he’s never felt like the job got in the way of the rest of his life.
“My wife loves these types of things. She absolutely loves to be a part of this high school,” he said. “My boys grew up at Mountain View. So I wasn’t torn between being here and at home, because the school was an extension of home.”
So while Plants is tired of getting home at 11 p.m. and being at school the next morning before 8 a.m., and while he’s not able to recover as quickly after a big event like prom or this spring’s musical, he’ll still miss being a part of the school.
“I have to accept that I’ll no longer have any say. I have to be willing to walk away and let this stuff be someone else’s responsibility,” he said. “But I don’t want these programs to fail. I would love for someone to take these programs higher. … But it’s been such a big part of my life.”
Deb DeGrosse, the school’s drama teacher, said Plants has been an integral part of her life at the school. DeGrosse has worked with Plants for 25 years; in fact, he was on the committee that hired her at the school.
“We’ve just always communicated well because I think both of us feel primarily that it’s important to just do the best for the students. And so whatever that takes to make that happen, that’s where we go.”
While DeGrosse said she often struggles with the planning process, Plants was just the opposite.
“He’s the most linear and rational musician I know,” she said. “He really can map it out and see it all happening.”
Whether it’s the respect he shows students or his linear way of thinking, Plants is a popular guy at Mountain View. And the most obvious manifestation may have occurred at the school’s annual holiday concert, when graduates return to sing the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s “Messiah.”
But this school year was different, Plants said, and overwhelming. Word of Plants’ retirement spread, and when it came time for the piece, more than 120 former students flooded the stage to perform with the current choir.
“Some of those students I hadn’t seen in 25 years,” Plants said, shaking his head.
And it’s the kids, Plants said, that have made his years in education worthwhile.
“It’s been a great ride. People ask me all the time, ‘If you had to do it again, would you still do it?’” Plants said. “In a heartbeat.”
At Mountain View for 31 years, Plants teaches leadership and mixed, concert and jazz choir classes; he’s also been the student activities director since 1990.
Family: wife, Jan; three sons, Mark, 27, Curt, 25, and Scott 18