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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette EACS Superintendent Ken Folks visits with fifth-graders at New Haven Intermediate School. He retires Friday.

Sunday, June 25, 2017 1:00 am

Relationships key for Folks

Outgoing EACS chief wins praise

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Also: Superintendent search

The East Allen County Schools board is “diligently going through the process” of selecting its next superintendent and hopes to make an announcement soon, President Bob Nelson said last week.

Nearly a dozen applied, and the board invited six for interviews. The process included a second round of interviews, he said. The board enlisted the Indiana School Boards Association to assist with the search.

Details on the 11 applicants have not been released, but Nelson has described them as “quality people.” Nelson said the board hopes to announce its pick in July.

– Ashley Sloboda, The Journal Gazette

If you are an East Allen County Schools student, chances are good Superintendent Ken Folks knows your name.

If he doesn't, he likely knows your face.

The self-described people person tried to visit every school at least every other week during his four-year tenure at EACS, which ends with his retirement Friday. That's 16 schools in 10 days, meaning multiple building visits per day was common, he said.

“They have so many events I want to be a part of,” Folks said, standing among spectators at New Haven Intermediate School last month for the fifth-grade rocket launch.

An invitation-only retirement celebration honoring Folks, 59, is set for Wednesday.

His 36-year career in schools included work as a social studies teacher, coach, athletic director and principal. He began his first central office job in 2010 as chief academic officer at Marion Community Schools.

“Some people set out to be a superintendent,” Folks said. “I didn't.”

He credits Steve Yager, a former Northwest Allen County Schools superintendent, for encouraging him toward that path. Folks worked at NACS for 10 years as a principal.

“You took a chance on me,” he told the EACS school board at his last meeting Tuesday.

Bob Nelson was on the board when Folks was hired and said he recently ran for his second term because he anticipated a superintendent search.

“I just wish it was three years from now,” said Nelson, the board president.

He and Marilyn Hissong, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said Folks helped improve morale.

“He brings a high energy to our district,” Hissong said.

Deborah Watson, assistant superintendent of secondary education, wrote in an email that Folks believes in doing what is best for children and empowers and supports those who work with him.

“We will remember him most for bringing war rooms to the district and his constant focus on school safety,” she wrote.

War rooms – or data rooms on steroids, as Folks calls them – are places where educators track data about each student to individualize instruction tailored to his or her unique need.

Folks' efforts to learn names and attend public events, including school sporting events, impressed Nelson. At a wrestling meet, Nelson said he watched at least a dozen student-athletes thank Folks for his support. That approachability is “who Ken is,” Nelson said.

Hissong agreed.

“He builds relationships with anyone he comes in contact with,” she said, listing parents, custodians, paraprofessionals and teachers as examples. “He finds ways to connect.”

David Randall, a social studies teacher and basketball coach at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, said Folks did little things that matter to people, like wishing him good luck before a game.

He also took a personal interest in staff members, Randall said. He didn't expect Folks, who has a son in Brooklyn, New York, to send him a list of recommended activities upon learning he and his wife planned to visit New York City last year, the teacher said.

“He'll be a tough act to follow,” Randall said.

Folks said he benefited from the opportunity to lead a district like EACS, which has urban, suburban and rural schools and covers 344 square miles.

“It's a different kind of district,” he said before giving a student at the rocket launch a high-five.

Under his leadership, EACS improved its A-F accountability grade, moving from the C category to the A category in one year. It most recently received a B from the state.

The district also gained about 500 students in the last two years, indicating that families are choosing and staying in EACS, Folks said.

About 9,500 children were enrolled last year.

Folks called the achievements rewarding but said they aren't his alone. The board and employees also deserve credit, he said.

“Our strength is our human capital,” he said.

EACS is in a good position to switch to a new superintendent, Folks said, adding that it's better for him to leave when things are going well.

“I've had a very enriching career,” said Folks, who announced his retirement in April.

He expects to keep busy in retirement. Folks said his wife, Kay, retired three years ago.

But will he be as busy as he did at EACS?

On a Thursday late in the school year, he not only attended New Haven Intermediate's rocket launch but also stopped by Southwick Elementary School for doughnuts with dad. He also visited Prince Chapman Academy, New Haven High School, Leo Elementary School and New Haven Primary School for its field day.

“That's just today,” he said.

asloboda@jg.net