Retiring superintendent devoted career to district

Photos bySarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Southeast Dubois County School Corporation Superintendent Rick Allen listens as Forest Park High School senior Lucas Mehringer explains his process for building a robot at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday. Allen tries to visit the schools on a weekly basis to keep up with students, faculty and staff. 

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — After 36 years at Southeast Dubois Schools, Superintendent Rick Allen, 57, is retiring.

Allen moved to Ferdinand fresh out of college at Purdue University in 1983. Back then, the Mount Comfort native had no intention of staying in the area. But life had other plans. After nine years as the agriculture teacher, Allen took on the assistant principal position at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School. Thirteen years later, he became the corporation’s assistant superintendent. Seven years later, in 2011, he became superintendent. Now, Allen will end his career in the same corporation where he began, a feat all but unheard of among educators.

“I fell in love with the place,” Allen said. “It was awesome. The kids were great.”

As the first agriculture teacher, Allen was in charge of guiding the school’s fledgling agriculture classes and Future Farmers of America program. It was a challenge made for Allen. Being an agriculture educator was in his blood since his father — also named Richard Allen — was an agriculture teacher in the Indianapolis area. His father’s career is part of what led the younger Allen to become an ag teacher; it’s also part of what made him decide to start his career away from the Indianapolis area where he grew up.

“I didn’t want to be in my dad’s shadow, because he was a very successful and popular ag teacher,” Allen said. “I wanted to make my own roots.”

Southeast Dubois County School Corporation Superintendent Rick Allen visits with Forest Park High School senior Maggie Brown at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday. "I've known Maggie since she was very young. She's a senior now," Allen said. "The vast majority of kids are kids of parents I had in school."

Now, Allen has roots firmly planted in Dubois County and the Southeast Dubois district.

For one, his family is here. Allen met his future wife, Brenda, three years into his career when she joined Forest Park’s staff as the family and consumer science teacher. Back then, Allen said, there were about seven single faculty members in the school, so they all hung out together.

Eventually, he and Brenda started dating and married in 1987. Now, they have two adult sons who graduated from Forest Park and live in the area. Allen’s oldest son, Nathan, lives in Santa Claus with his wife, Lindsay, and their three daughters. The younger son, Tyler, lives in St. Anthony with his wife, Amy, and their daughter. The couple is expecting their second child this spring.

For another, Allen has secured a legacy for himself at Southeast Dubois. He built the foundation for the corporation’s thriving agriculture and FFA program, which is ranked 25th in the state at competitions. Allen remembers it didn’t take long for his FFA students to lay the groundwork for the winning program. Within about three years, he recalled, his students were bringing awards back to Forest Park.

“It put everybody else in our district on notice that Forest Park was here to win,” he said.

Allen also played a role in bringing the first computers to Forest Park. He and Sister Rebecca Abel with the Sisters of St. Benedict, who was the school’s media specialist at the time, worked to bring a handful of IBM desktops with 5¼-inch floppy drives to the school.

Southeast Dubois County School Corporation Superintendent Rick Allen talks on the phone as he walks to his office from Forest Park High School in Ferdinand on Tuesday. Allen tries to visit the schools on a weekly basis to keep up with students, faculty and staff.

Over his career, Allen has seen education technology evolve from the handful of IBM behemoths to a tablet for every student. Looking back on the technological evolution, Allen said, always brings his grandparents to mind. They saw the invention of black and white TV, the first telephones, color TV and the first computers during their lifetime. Now, in his lifetime, Allen has seen the rise of cellphones and tablets.

“It really makes me wonder what is in our future,” Allen said.

Technology was a major interest for Allen early in his career, and he enjoyed being part of figuring out how to apply each new development to education. Now, though, technology is a big reason he’s chosen to retire. With cellphones, Allen said, superintendents are always on call.

“You’re tethered 24/7, 365,” he said. “It just wears on you.”

He recalled being on a cruise for his 25th wedding anniversary in Alaska and answering work emails. He knows he could turn it off, and acknowledges that he probably should, but his desire to be available for his school district outweighed the need to turn off the phone.

He’s also seen how much fun Brenda is having since she retired in 2017. The two always planned to retire together, and Allen said it’s time to make that a reality.

With a fifth grandchild on the way, Allen wants to be able to spend more time with his family, and he said he sees a lot of phone calls from his sons asking him to babysit in his future.

When July comes and Allen hangs up his suit coat, he will surely be missed. He hired three of the corporation’s four principals, and built strong relationships with all four over the years.

Pine Ridge Elementary Principal Ryan Haas still remembers the conversation he and Allen had over lunch when Allen offered him the job. Nine years later, Haas said, it’s a bit weird to see Allen retiring. Still, Haas said, he’s happy for Allen and glad to have worked with him.

“The kids really enjoy him,” Haas said. “If he comes at lunch or over recess, the kids really enjoy getting to know him.”

Allen said he’ll miss the students and staff, too. One of his favorite parts of being superintendent was interacting with the students.

“You’d be amazed what you learn when you eat lunch with first-graders,” Allen said. “They’ll volunteer everything that’s happening in their house. It’s like TMI. Too much information.”

He’ll also miss the teachers, administrators and board, adding that they’re what make Southeast Dubois successful.

“Leading a high-performing school district like we have is a challenge,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good team behind you, and we do. That’s one of our strengths.”

Although Allen won’t occupy the superintendent’s seat anymore, he doesn’t plan to disappear completely. He’s thinking about getting his bus driver license. As a superintendent, part of his role was managing the corporation’s bus routes, so he knows first-hand the challenges the bus driver shortage in the area offers schools. He wants to do what he can to alleviate that. He’ll still live in the area, too, so he plans to regularly attend sporting events.

“When you retire, it’s not a eulogy,” he said. “It’s just retirement.”

The school board will name Allen’s successor at its April board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. April 3 at the corporation office, 432 E. 15th St., Ferdinand.




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