Dr. John Folks, a passionate advocate for Texas public education who has led Northside ISD for the past decade, announced today that he is retiring at the end of the school year.
"This is a bittersweet and difficult decision for me," Folks said. "It's especially difficult to step down while school districts are in the midst of another school funding lawsuit to force the state Legislature to fund public education adequately and equitably."
But after 42 years in education, Folks said it was time to slow down and spend more time with his family.
Folks began his career in education as a math teacher in Port Arthur, Texas and previously served as the Superintendent of Spring ISD before coming to Northside in 2002. From 1984-1988, he served as the Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position comparable to the Texas Commissioner of Education.
Folks is an Oklahoma native, but he has left a lasting mark on Texas leading the fourth largest school district in the state. Under his tenure, Northside ISD has received numerous honors. In 2005, Northside was the first district in the state to receive the HEB Excellence in Education Award, and in 2007, NISD was one of five finalists in the nation for the Broad Prize, the Nobel Prize of education.
This year, Northside ISD was named a Recognized district for the fourth consecutive year and now is the second largest Recognized school district in the state. And since Dr. Folks became Superintendent, NISD voters have approved three consecutive bond issues for $1.7 billion in bonds for new schools and improvements and renovations to existing schools.
But Folks' most personal achievement came just last month when he was named the 2011 Texas Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Association of School Boards for his statewide leadership and his unwavering and vocal support of Texas public education.
This past legislative session, Folks made regular trips to Austin, often daily, to testify on the impact of legislation to Texas school districts, both large and small. He also spent hours on the phone and in Austin, talking one-on-one with legislators about the very real repercussions of a drastic reduction in education funding. He even rallied thousands of education supporters on the Capitol steps, urging lawmakers to "Make Education a Priority."
Dr. Folks' accomplishments and efforts have all come while facing enormous challenges. District enrollment, now at 97,439, has grown by roughly 3,000 students per year over the last decade, and during his tenure at NISD, Dr. Folks has opened 37 schools.
However, this year, the District was forced to eliminate almost 1,000 positions and cut $61 million from the budget after the state slashed funding for education. At the same time, the state is introducing a new testing system and increasing accountability standards for students. Whether the hurdles are financial or instructional, Folks keeps employees and community members continuously informed through his weekly Monday Message column, the NISD website, social media, and Lessons, the District's quarterly newsletter.
Karen Freeman, President of the NISD Board of Trustees, said Folks has provided Northside with strong, steady leadership in both good times and bad. She said the entire Board wishes Folks could stay for another decade but she respects and understands his decision to retire at this time.
"We have more than 12,000 employees and a very supportive community who work to make Northside ISD a great district, but the District owes its excellent reputation to Dr. Folks' leadership, vision, and guidance," she said. "To say that he will be missed is a massive understatement."
The Board of Trustees now must decide the process to select a replacement for Folks. The next Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 24.