NEW HAVEN – When Ken Folks was hired as chief academic officer at Marion Community Schools, the district’s high school was facing the possibility of state takeover because of low performance.
Three years later, the school is off probation and last year was just shy of earning a B grade under the state’s A-to-F grading accountability system.
Now Folks comes to lead East Allen County Schools, a diverse district that has been without a leader for more than two months and has had to adjust to a redesign plan that left some communities without funding for needed building upgrades.
The district announced Wednesday that Folks had been chosen as superintendent. The school board intends to call a special meeting next week to approve a contract with the new leader.
Former EACS Superintendent Karyle Green left the district March 1 in a mutual agreement with the board. During her time in the district, Green recommended a redesign plan to close and consolidate schools as the district faced a decreasing budget and declining enrollment.
But not all parts of the redesign were implemented. Voters struck down a referendum for the New Haven and Harding attendance areas, leaving the district without the funds for basic upgrades to its buildings in those areas.
Thirteen candidates applied for the job that Green left, and the board invited nearly half for further interviews. One candidate withdrew from the search, leaving five applicants to lead the district of nearly 9,500 students with family backgrounds that include Amish farmers and Burmese refugees.
But of the five, one stood out as someone who could be just what the district needed – a healer, school board member Stephen Terry said.
(In Folks) I found someone who’s willing to listen and apply it to the job, Terry said.
He is a man of integrity, honesty and carries a great deal of respect in the education community, Board President Neil Reynolds said. And that’s what we wanted.
Folks brings more than 30 years of experience in education to the district. He left the classroom in 1997 and has been a school administrator in Northern Wells Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools.
Most recently, he was assistant superintendent of instruction for Marion Community Schools. He was hired as chief academic officer there in July 2010 to help Superintendent Steve Edwards monitor the district’s curriculum, particularly at Marion High School.
At the high school, things were in bad shape, Edwards said. Folks was really the face and the champion for the culture change (there).
The culture change was focused on improving standardized test scores, graduation rates, college readiness and attendance and decreasing discipline instances. The strategy worked for the school, which continues to see improvement, Edwards said.
Edwards, who will retire at the end of the month, said Folks worked tirelessly to recommend solutions.
(Folks) was key in leading the change we’re experiencing (at Marion High School), Edwards said.
During a news conference Wednesday, Folks acknowledged the large learning curve he faces as the upcoming school year looms.
I’ve got to seek first to understand, he said. I’ve got to be a learner over the next few months.
The board has held off on a decision about its Title I application to allow Folks to give direction on the number of schools the district will fund with the federal money targeted at buildings with high populations of low-income students.
I do have to dive in right away, he said of the work on the application. But what we will produce and recommend to the board will be a team effort.
Folks said he sees the diversity in the district as a strength and looks forward to engaging with the communities in the district. Edwards said the staff and community members should know they will see Folks often.
What East Allen will be getting in Dr. Folks is someone who’s very visible, Edwards said.
Folks said he enjoys being in schools regularly and hopes the staff will be excited to see him instead of being afraid.
I’m a transformational leader, meaning I’m a collaborative leader, Folks said. I want to create an atmosphere where people know I’m approachable and will share their ideas with me.
Reynolds said Folks was well received today when he was introduced to the staff. He spent most of the day meeting with the central office staff about various topics.
We’re really excited about the whole process, Reynolds said. We think that we’re poised to make some leaps forward.
Folks holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary education and an administrator’s license from IPFW. He also holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Purdue University, according to a statement from the district.
Folks said he has worked and lived in Allen County for most of his life. He lives in Fort Wayne, so he won’t have to relocate for the job. Folks and his wife, Kay, have two grown sons.
Folks is set to earn a base salary of $140,000 in his first year, with a board-approved $3,000 performance increase each year for the next two years of the three-year contract. The package totals more than $208,000 in the first year and includes $5,000 in yearly annuity payments and allowances.