Canton-Galva’s Denk ready for new challenge

Canton-Galva’s new superintendent, John Denk, comes to USD 419 from the Smoky Valley school district, where he served for 18 years as middle school principal.John Denk says his career in public-school admin­istration has been reenergized since accepting the superintendency at USD 419 Canton-Galva this summer.

“I was looking for a new challenge” he said. “I felt like this would provide it.”

Denk came to Canton-Galva from Lindsborg, where he had served as middle school principal for the past 18 years; prior to that, he was K-8 principal at Hill City, his hometown.

“I think after 24 years of being a building principal, I felt like I was almost on autopilot,” he said. “I really like the different perspective of the superintendency compared to being a building principal.

“I’m getting more of a global perspective of the district.

“And, believe it or not, getting involved with the political aspects of education has been very interesting for me, too,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed learning about that process a little bit.”

Life path

Born and raised in Hill City, Denk studied and played football at Garden City Community College after graduating from high school. He then enrolled at Fort Hays State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1986.

From there, Denk served a stint with the Army Reserve. After completing basic training, he was married to Laurie, whom he had met at FHSU; she earned an education degree from the university, too.

“We lived in Palco because that’s where my wife was teaching at the time,” he said. “She was teaching there and was working on her master’s degree as well during the summer time.”

When Denk completed his time with the Army in December, he began working on his master’s degree at Fort Hays State.

The following fall, the Denks both got teaching jobs in El Dorado High School; John taught woodworking, carpentry and principles of technology.

After five years at El Dorado, the Denks made the move to Smoky Valley, where he began his job as principal.

With John’s transition to Canton-Galva, Laurie continues to teach advanced technology at Smoky Valley High School. She also teaches at Vision Tech, the district’s technology center in downtown Lindsborg.

“Somewhere in there we ended up having two children,” Denk said about their time in Lindsborg.

Son Conner, 25, currently works for U.S. Cellular in McPherson. Daughter Claire, 20, is a junior at the University of Kan­sas.

New start at USD 419

Denk said the decision to pursue a superintendent job was based on family as well as career.

“I had gotten my district-level license several years back, and knew I wanted to do this at some point in my career,” he said. “But the timing was never quite right until my kids were both gone and there was nothing holding us anymore.

“So I decided to become a superintendent, and then the job search for this position came open. It was attractive to me because I like this part of the state.”

Denk, who has acquired a house in Canton, said the community reminds him of his hometown.

“It’s a small town with good people and good kids,” he said. “It was attractive to me.”

Denk said the district’s strides in facility improvements in recent years frees him to focus on academics.

“Having come from Smoky Valley, they’re a very technology-rich district,” he said. “Canton-Galva has taken steps over the past few years to become technology rich. I want to continue that process.

“I think that’s going to be one of my challenges, to increase the use of technology to enhance learning,” Denk added. “There are several ways we can do that, but the district has taken good steps in getting technology in the hands of the kids. We’re almost one-to-one, seventh grade through 12th grade, with Chromebooks (laptop computers).

“That’s an excellent thing. With the purchase we plan to make this spring, we will probably be one-to-one (district-wide) by next year.”

Beyond technology, Denk said USD 419 faces similar financial challenges that most other small districts encounter these days.

“I don’t know that it affects us more than anyone else,” he said about funding. “Everybody’s struggling to make ends meet and still provide the things we want to be able to provide for kids.”

Beyond the job

Outside of work, Denk pursues a passion for woodworking in his shop at home. But he also has found a way to use his hobby to enhance his work environment.

“I’m building my (office) desk right now,” he said. “I haven’t changed much in the office here, but I’m getting ready to remodel and change things. I’m building the furniture for the office, also.

“It’s fun,” Denk said about woodworking. “It’s kind of my therapy. You can get out there and just kind of forget the world for a few hours. It’s pretty nice.”

Denk also enjoys hunting, fishing and traveling.

“And I’m a big KU fan—I even got season tickets to KU football,” he added. “Most people are not KU football fans, they’re basketball fans. But I like KU football, so I’m a true-blue fan.

“I’m not a grad or alumni or anything, but my dad was a big fan of KU,” he said about his Jayhawk connection. “He took me to my first college football game at KU, and also my first college basketball game at KU. He kind of made me a KU fan.”

Solid partnership

Denk is now Canton-Galva’s No. 1 fan, too. He said he enjoys visiting the K-6 building in Galva and the 7-12 building Canton. He thinks having a building in each community solidifies the district partnership.

“When you have two communities, there’s always the worry one might get all of the schools and the other will lose out,” Denk said. “Having just two buildings, I think that eliminates that concern.”

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