Siloam Springs Herald Leader
2023 Pioneer Citizen
Former Siloam Springs Superintendent Ken Ramey reflects on decades of service
Ken Ramey, the former superintendent of the Siloam Springs School District, has been a staple of the Siloam Springs community for decades.
Ramey, a modest servant of the community, has been announced as a recipient of the Pioneer Citizen award for 2023, which will be awarded to him at the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet on Thursday, Feb. 2, at Camp Siloam. Ramey says that he “doesn’t like drawing attention” but notes that he is very humbled and appreciative.
“I feel very humbled about it,” Ramey said. “I even question why I would be a designated honoree for it, but I’m very appreciative for it.”
LEADING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Ramey, who spent 27 of his 52 total years in education working in Siloam Springs, has played a pivotal role in the growth of the school district.
Before he came to Siloam Springs for the 1992-1993 school year, he spent time as a middle school principal in Prairie Grove and as a high school principal in Lincoln.
He started his career in Siloam Springs as the high school principal, moving up to assistant superintendent before being hired as the superintendent in 2001.
While he wasn’t starting from scratch, Ramey said there was work to be done.
“There was negativity there and trust issues and other things that we just had to overcome when I was getting my start in Siloam,” he said. “You had to live and work through that and it wasn’t easy.”
“We came from a pretty limited scope,” continued Ramey. “We started off with a very strong anti-tax sentiment when I first came here. People were frustrated about things in society, and oftentimes what happens is society comes back into your local community. It affects those that have to have schools based on tax dollars.”
While there was distrust in the beginning, there was also hope.
“When I came here there was a real core group of strong teachers who made a ton of difference in Siloam Springs,” Ramey said. “Plus, the community valued education. They wanted to improve education and they wanted us to work hard at our jobs. They wanted a leader that they could trust.”
Ramey eventually hit his stride, nurturing the growing district and winning many awards along the way, his favorite of which was the Superintendent of the Year award during the 2016-2017 school year.
The award, which came from the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, was a shock to Ramey.
“It was a complete surprise to me,” he said. “The whole association was just very good to me and very kind to me and I was proud to win it.”
Throughout all of the triumphs and tragedies, Ramey says the people are what kept him going, and that some of his favorite moments from working in Siloam Springs are the relationships that he built and the trust that he formed.
“Beginning to work closely with the school board, developing trust and building relationships were some of the best things I did here,” he said.
Ramey also notes that building the high school was a huge accomplishment and one that he is proud of.
“I’m most appreciative of being able to build a high school, something that you don’t build every 45 to 55 years,” he said.
Now Ramey watches from the sidelines.
“I’ve tried to stay completely out of the way and not judge on anything that’s going on,” he said.
HIGH PRAISE FOR RAMEY
Despite taking a step back from the world of public education, the district’s school board members, four of which were first elected under his watch, are still his biggest cheerleaders.
“I had the pleasure of serving a short time on the school board while Mr. Ramey was Superintendent, however our family was blessed over many years by his leadership,” said school board member Travis Jackson.
He continued, saying, “With my wife, Monica, being a teacher during his tenure and with all of our children coming through the school system, we experienced firsthand his love and devotion to the children and staff of our district.”
Audra Farrell, the school board’s vice president, also chimed in, noting how Ramey is deserving of the honor of the Pioneer Citizen award.
“Mr. Ramey has been an incredible representative for our school district and our community,” Farrell said. “He has enriched and touched the lives of many and is very worthy of this honor.”
Grant Loyd, a current school board member who was elected months before Ramey stepped down, was a high schooler, when Ramey was the principal.
“Mr. Ramey was the principal at Siloam Springs High School when I came through, and I will always remember the impact that he had on me one night after a game,” Loyd recalled. “As I was coming off the field, he stopped me to tell me that was a great block I had during the game. It may not seem like a big gesture to some, but as a high schooler it stood out to me that my principal noticed a receiver making a block that usually goes unnoticed and let me know he noticed.”
“Those kinds of moments are what I think of when I think of Mr. Ramey,” continued Loyd. “He always takes the time to let people know that he notices them. He is selfless and the definition of a servant leader to many. Mr. Ramey impacted more than he will ever know, by simply just being himself; kind, caring, and watchful.”
TEACHERS ‘MOST IMPORTANT ASSET’
Ramey stepped down in June 2019 after nearly 20 years in the role and less than a year before the onset of the covid-19 pandemic. He says that he’s glad he got out when he did, but it’s disappointing how hard everything has been since then.
“Covid has been a disaster for everybody, but especially for kids and families,” said Ramey. “It’s been really hard. I think the victims, besides the children and their families, are the teachers.”
“They have really been through a lot of hardship over having to learn how to instruct online and how to adjust. I’d imagine learning loss has been staggering,” Ramey added.
Ramey noted that teachers are the most important asset to the district.
“Any school district is built on the heart and soul of the teachers,” he said. “Teachers are the ones that make the difference. They’re the ones that are with the children in the classroom everyday.”
Ramey went on to comment on how education has evolved, noting that the last few years have been particularly challenging and overly political.
“I think we are all better off if we keep politics out of education, but it just seems to continue wrapping itself around it,” said Ramey. “We don’t need to be too far to the right, we don’t need to be too far to the left; we need to be in the middle, pulling people together and working together so everyone sees the best interest of the kids.”
“It’s always easy to beat up public education,” continued Ramey. “I think it’s important for people to remember that public education means everybody, not just a select few. There are a lot of buzz words right now and there has been a lot of distrust and acrimony around politics, and that’s going to bleed into the public schools.”
Ramey said it’s important to examine these topics and decide if they are worth discussing.
“Things like Critical Race Theory; that’s not taught in Arkansas,” he said. “That’s not a part of Arkansas high schools. It’s a waste of breath and uneducated to say that we have that when we don’t.”
Ramey added that history is an important thing in education, saying, “We need to know where we came from so we know where we’re going.”
Ramey praised former Governor Asa Hutchinson and the work he did with public education but said that the verdict is still out on current Governor Sarah Sanders. “Everybody went to school but it doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.”
Ramey also noted his suggestions for improving state education. “If we want to improve the state, universal Pre-K may be the best, quickest, strongest way to improve education as well as continue the Arkansas reading and science initiative, which has always been a solid project.”
LABOR OF LOVE
Ramey says that, at the end of the day, public education is important and the kids are what made the job worth it.
“I was always motivated by watching young people develop. When I was having a particularly stressful day in the school business, I would always go to Allen Elementary or Northside Elementary and watch the kids learn to read or learn to work together,” said Ramey.
“It was a labor of love for me,” continued Ramey. “I always enjoyed working with young people. They are our future and they are only young once. I feel like they are where the focus needs to be when it comes to what we can do.”
After Ramey stepped down, he has taken as much time as possible to enjoy the beauty of Siloam Springs.
“I do a lot of walking,” joked Ramey.
Ramey says that he’s also been trying to lift up those in the community during his time away from the job.
“I want to salute and endorse those that are making a difference in Siloam Springs,” he said. “We have a lot of volunteer organizations that are run by wonderful people.”
He continued, saying, “Siloam is very vibrant and offers a quality of life and has a good stable community, a good city board, an excellent hospital; there’s just so many positive things in Siloam, I think it will continue to grow. Hopefully, Siloam will continue to be the beautiful volunteer city that it is.”
“It was a great honor to serve this community for all these years,” he added. “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to make a positive impact on the students and families and this community.”