After more than 30 years in education, all but two of them in Hays USD 489, Allen Park has retired.
He won’t stop caring about kids, though.
He isn’t sure in what capacity, but he plans “to be an advocate for children in some way. I don’t know what that’s going to be. That’s been my love for so long. I will continue to do that.”
Park started working at the Hays school district as an English as a second language paraprofessional at Washington Elementary School while he was still in college.
Beginning in 1984, he taught industrial arts, drafting and woods and coached at Hays High School. He also taught ESL at Washington, woods and physical education at Kennedy Middle School and coached basketball and volleyball at Felten Middle School for four years.
Park earned his master’s degree in 1988 and was K-8 principal, athletic director and volleyball coach at Stafford for two years. He returned to Washington as principal in 1990, a position he had until the school closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
The move from classroom teacher to administrator was a tough decision, but he comes from a family of teachers and administrators. His father was an elementary principal and superintendent, and his sister also was a teacher and elementary administrator.
“A lot of people move out of elementary school, but I went the route with K-8, elementary,” he said. “I felt like I could really make an impact at that level and really enjoy the at-risk students that I worked with and families. I just enjoyed that atmosphere.”
Park knew the five Washington administrators who served before him and considered working there and in the school district, a great opportunity.
“It’s a unique building, and it’s a family atmosphere that started back when Warren (Macy) was there. It’s a special place to work,” Park said.
Longtime Washington teacher Sharon Howard, who retired at the end of the last school year, said Park was a big part of what made the school special.
“He was supportive. He let you try things. He was there not only for the teachers, but for the kids and the parents,” she said. “I don’t think there was an administrator who cared more deeply about the kids, not only while they were under his care, but after they left his care. Once a Washington kid, always a Washington kid. He allowed his staff to grow and feel safe.”
Park said his priority was to meet the kids’ needs, and often the best way to do that was helping teachers.
At Washington, there were “a lot of great educators and staff, from the cook to the custodian, (and) school nurse was a community that cared about kids and loved their job and loved working with children, and wanted to make an impact,” Park said.
There was little staff turnover.
“There was two decades that the principal, the head secretary and head custodian worked together. That’s pretty rare, and the staff that were there during that time had little turnover,” he said.
Elaine Rohleder, Lincoln Elementary School principal, has worked at USD 489 for 21 years.
She said Park was a big help when she started. The elementary principals also work closely together, getting and giving advice.
Park was knowledgeable about ESL, and she went to him for help working with those students and families.
“He truly loves working with students and families,” Rohleder said.
Several students enrolled in Lincoln after Washington closed, and Park helped with the transition, including being on hand to introduce Rohleder to the families.
“He was willing to take on anything asked of him,” Rohleder said.
Besides the staff, Park listed partnerships and programs that started at the school, often as grants as a rewarding part of his career.
“That was neat to see and be part of,” he said.
A 2005 technology rich grant brought in more than $150,000 for media classrooms and one-to-one computers in grades two to five. Washington was one of the first schools where all students had computers.
“Parents sometimes were financially strapped. But with that community, we were able to accomplish things. Sometimes it took longer,” Park said.
The parent and school partnership is responsible for playground equipment, fences and trees.
“We did a lot of things with a research base. A playground with a lot of trees helps children appreciate nature,” he said. “At some point when they were there, we planted a tree.”
Other partnerships included foster grandparents and read to me, Fort Hays State University students leading a physical education period and books from the Rotary Club after RIF was canceled.
Each student also received a bookshelf and extra tutoring from FHSU students.
The after-school program “was a huge help to those students,” Park said.
Howard said she enjoys catching up with former students.
“They’ll always be my kids,” she said. “It’s good to see where they are now and how they did. I think Mr. Park had a lot to do with that.”
The bond issue upgrades and improvements in 1994 also are a highlight of Park’s career.
“I remember going up there (to the school) at 3 a.m. and opening the windows to let the cool air in to cool the building down every morning when it was warm,” Park said.
The school’s reach went beyond the classroom.
There are a lot of challenges with an at-risk building to meet and improve the needs of kids and at home. Occasionally that included surprise gifts for families at Christmas.
“Sometimes it was just amazing to get those notes from the parents that said that came at the right time,” he said.
As director of the migrant program, Park also helped with health needs.
Since the elementary school closed, Park has assisted with getting the students and staff placed in new schools.
“We worked hard to make that a positive transition for the kids and continue to do that,” Park said. “Things change and things are moving on in a direction that the board thinks is important at this time. It’s nice to see the building being used.”
Park’s last official day was Oct. 2, but he will be working a little longer.
Since the building was repurposed for Early Childhood Connections, “we had to get out of Washington in three days. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of files, records I’m still working through. So I’ll be working on that a bit longer.”
Park and his wife, Patti, have three daughters, Alex, 26, who’s working on a second degree at FHSU in speech pathology; Breanna, a junior at Hays High; and Brittani, a Hays High freshman; and one son, Nick, seventh grade at Hays Middle School.
Park has been active in their activities, but now he’ll “be able to help in a lot of areas I haven’t had a chance to.”