Gary French's four years at the top

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Editorial: July 12, 2013

ISSUE: Gary French retires
OUR VIEW: Superintendent tenure was an active time

Last month, Gary French ended a 35-year career as an educator. Leading Elizabethtown Independent Schools as superintendent for the last four years, French worked multiple jobs in the district over the decades.

Teaching started as a means to coach basketball. But French quickly loved teaching and his professional life bloomed to leave its mark on students ,and then teachers, and then administrators and the entire district community.

Both for an appreciated leadership style and for being at the helm during a particularly active time is EIS history, French should retire a satisfied man.

An Elizabethtown High School graduate, French started teaching in Hardin County Schools in 1978. In ’82, he started teaching and coaching at his alma mater. Later he was an assistant principal and athletic director. He served a number of jobs with districtwide impact director of students services. Twice French led the district as interim superintendent, in 2006 and again in 2009. French was hired the third time he applied for the top district position.

The board of education chose other candidates the first two times, upsetting some of French’s supporters and leading to some tense board meetings. But French’s time came.

In the permanent job, he immediately took on the district’s longterm planning for enhanced facilities and services for students.

An EIS assistant superintendent noted being supportive is French’s hallmark and that’s been critical to his subordinates’ success. Reflecting on his time as superintendent, others noted how flexible French has been, embracing whatever task came to the office.

During his tenure, the district has underwent a rare construction boom as well.

Panther Academy, the district’s preschool and kindergarten center on North Mulberry Street, opened in late 2012. It was the first new construction project since 1971. Helmwood Heights Elementary School has been completely renovated. And a nearly $4 million sports stadium is being built at the high school.

Retirement ought to be a rewarding time for French. It must have been rewarding to consider some of his bosses, the members of the board of education, are former students who grew into community leaders. It must have been rewarding to recall cutting the ribbon on an innovative early education center or to count the students finding new opportunities through, as just one example, district partnerships with Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.

French expected all along to fulfill just one four-year contract as superintendent, but that short time was impactful. Though many share the credit, French leaves Elizabethtown Independent Schools is a good position. And though he has some down time coming, the schools would only benefit if French, with the goodwill the community has for him, remained an active advocate for student achievement.

The editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.