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Dictionary definitions of the word “superintendent” lead to one simple but vague description — the person in charge. The superintendent of a school district does not oversee any one particular thing but ultimately is responsible for it all.
Michelle Hart says Gary French often would puzzle at the amorphous job he was in and claim he didn’t really know what it meant to be superintendent.
“But whatever it is, he does it so well,” Hart said.
French, superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Schools, retired this week after 35 years in education. He was selected as superintendent in December 2009, making the position one of a dozen he has held through his time with EIS.
French took the superintendent position knowing he would serve just a few years. He knew he was nearing the end of his career, but he loved the district and knew the people who would surround him at Central Office.
“And I believed in them and I trusted them,” he said.
That was felt by his colleagues, said Kelli Bush, who is assistant superintendent for curriculum.
In every role they have each served, she said, “the constant for him is just how supportive he is.”
French allowed her to make her own decisions and then stood behind those choices, she said. That support is vital for leaders.
“You really can’t be effective if you don’t have it,” she said.
French said becoming a superintendent was never a position he imagined holding.
French initially pursued business in college before realizing he wanted to coach basketball. He chose the teaching profession so that he could coach, he said. But those feelings changed once he started his career in 1978 in Hardin County Schools.
“I really fell in love with teaching kids,” he said.
He moved to EIS, the district he attended as a student, in 1982. After serving as teacher and a coach, he went on to serve as an assistant principal, athletic director and as director of a variety of departments in Central Office, including pupil personnel, transportation and maintenance.
To leave the district as superintendent is a blessing, he said. He has no plans for retirement at the moment beyond enjoying the outdoors and time with his grandchildren. He knows retirement doesn’t sit well with everyone, but he hopes it will for him.
“I think I’m going to enjoy it,” he said. “I have every intention of enjoying it.”
The people are what stick in his mind the most. When he was honored at his last board meeting, he began to think about how he first met most of the board members as students at Elizabethtown High School.
“It’s just very, very special for me,” he said.
Through all of his positions, he met students, parents and all manner of school employees. The director of pupil personnel job especially acquainted him with the wider community.
“It made me value the worth of each individual that I came in contact with,” he said.
Cora Wood, director of personnel, said French was the first in the office every morning and would have coffee brewing for everyone when they arrived. He was ready to do what was needed and the flexible job description of superintendent, for French, included making coffee.
“Some people have the title of superintendent,” she said. “He serves the role of superintendent.”
Because the parameters of the superintendent position occasionally seemed fuzzy to French, he instead just focused on being himself. Maybe he wasn’t a superintendent, he said, but he is an educator.
“And I always tried to be that first,” he said.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached
at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@