By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Barb Smolen entered into her role at the Warsaw Education Foundation hesitantly.
She felt she didn’t have the qualifications to be the organization’s executive director even though others encouraged her to apply when the position was open in 2006.
“So then they interviewed me … and offered me the position and I said, ‘I will help you out for a few years until you find somebody that has the experience and the knowledge’ … and so that two years turned into 15,” she said.
WEF board members and WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert and other staff honored Smolen, the organization’s longest serving executive director, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, with a retirement party. Her last day in the role was at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Smolen adjusted to being executive director of the organization, which “champions academic innovation and excellence in Warsaw Community Schools,” according to its website.
It does that by giving out Red Apple Grants to WCS teachers to help pay for school programs and helping fund the chess program in the corporation.
It also funds the Nontraditional Employment for Women (N.E.W.) Opportunities Workshop, which encourages high school girls to look at jobs that traditionally have been male-dominated. That program grew during Smolen’s time as WEF executive director.
The organization also puts on the Community Quiz Bowl, which raises money for WEF programs. Funding for the program also comes in via donations. WEF has an endowed fund through the Kosciusko County Community Foundation (KCCF).
Smolen said the most rewarding parts of her time as executive director were handling the Red Apple Grants and helping recognize WCS teachers.
“I got to read through all those grants, which was really very cool because there are teachers out there who are … trying to do some amazing things. And then presenting those grants to the teachers,” she said. “And the other thing is our Honor an Educator program, where you can make a donation to the foundation and write a special message and we put that message on a certificate and deliver it to the teachers, so reading those messages and then actually going out to the schools and delivering those.”
Smolen said challenges she experienced in the role had to do with learning how to manage a nonprofit and use technology. She said she’s grateful to the KCCF for the nonprofit training it offered her and WorkOne and the school corporation for helping her learn technology.
She said she found the job to be rewarding.
“If you’re interested in education and just specifically Warsaw Schools education – I think that’s what motivated me to take the job because then I could help teachers do things that regular school funding can’t afford to supply for students, the money just isn’t there – and so you get to see, you get to meet a whole lot of people in the school corporation and you get to work with them and help them with things and then you get to see the results of those kinds of things, so the reward is there,” she said.
“There’s some positions that you go into and … you don’t get to see what the finished product is,” she continued. “This job, you get to see it from beginning to end and I think it’s the coolest thing.”
WEF Board members praised Smolen for her work.
“She was the face of Warsaw Education Foundation for 15 years,” said Board President Todd Pequignot. “She did a lot for local teachers in terms of Red Apple Grants, fundraising with the Community Quiz Bowl. She’ll definitely be missed.”
“She did an awesome job and we thank her for it,” said Board Director Rob Parker.
“Barb did a lot more than we even realized and when she left, there was definitely a big hole,” added Board 2nd Vice President Vanessa Barber. “Just knowing all the work that she did really makes me appreciate her even more.”
A replacement for Smolen is being sought. The paid position is 20 hours a month.
To learn more information or to submit a resume, people should email [email protected]