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story.lead_photo.caption Janelle Jessen/Herald-Leader Marilyn and Dan Siemens retired after 36 and 39 years in education.

Dan Siemens was sitting at his desk at Barnes Elementary School in Owasso, Okla., on the last day for teachers in May of 2000 when he received a phone call that would change the course of his life.

Randall Spears, superintendent of Siloam Springs Schools at the time, said he would like to talk to Siemens about a possible elementary school principal position. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

After 18 years in Siloam Springs School District, Dan and his wife Marilyn Siemens, announced their retirement from their positions as Southside Elementary School Principal and second grade teacher at Allen Elementary School earlier this year. Marilyn retired at the end of the school year and Dan's retirement will be official on June 30.

"Dan Siemens has had a very successful career in education," said Ken Ramey, current Siloam Springs superintendent. "He has been an outstanding educator and elementary school principal, making life long relationships with students, staff and co-workers who love him dearly."

Ramey said Siemens has always been a positive and motivating leader for both students and staff.

"He has lived the philosophy 'what's best for kids' and he will certainly be missed by the Siloam Springs School District," Ramey said.

Marilyn has had an equally successful career teaching children and has made a great impact on many students over her 36-year career, Ramey said.

"It's always difficult to see successful educators leave to retire, but they've earned it and I wish them nothing but the very best in this next chapter of their life," he said.

Siloam Springs roots

Dan was no stranger to Siloam Springs when he received the phone call from Spears in 2000. His family moved to Siloam Springs before his sophomore year of high school and he graduated from John Brown University with a bachelor's degree in elementary school education and a minor in math.

Dan landed his first job as a junior high math teacher and coach in January of 1977. He left to teach in the Owasso School District in 1979. He spent several years working as a teacher while working on his masters degree in counseling with a provisional administrators certificate, then took a job as assistant principal of the middle school in 1982. Dan went on to become the principal of Owasso Middle School for 13 years, from 1987 to 2000.

Marilyn grew up in southwest Oklahoma in the small farming community of Frederick. She earned her bachelor's degree at Oklahoma State University in December of 1974 and got a job in the Tulsa (Okla.) School District in 1975.

The couple met at a Bible study at church in Tulsa. After they married, Marilyn eventually got hired as a second grade teacher in the Owasso School District.

Oklahoma principal

Dan made plenty of memories for himself and his students during his time in Owasso. He was especially known for finding creative ways to challenge students to read.

One time he promised to move his office to the school roof if students read a certain amount of books. On another occasion, he completed a reading challenge by dressing up as Elvis and lip syncing to the iconic song, "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog," with a lineup of teachers serving as backup dancers.

To make the performance complete, Dan arranged for a parent who was a police officer to escort him in. After school, a teacher drove him in costume in a convertible to Sonic, and Elvis made an appearance at the fast food restaurant.

"Things like that are what kids will remember about elementary school," Dan said. "You know, they learn stuff about math and reading and social studies and science and all those things, but it's those experiences that are a little bit odd that they are going to say, 'Hey, remember back at Southside when we did ...' Those are the things they are going to talk about years later."

One of the biggest honors Dan received while working at Owasso was being selected by his peers to be the president of the Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principals in 1998-1999. As a result, he had the opportunity to serve on the board of directors for school administrators for three years, and go to Washington D.C., to lobby congressmen and senators on education issues.

Moving to Siloam Springs

When the Siemens arrived in Siloam Springs, what is now Southside Elementary School was actually two schools, each with separate principals, connected by a central community area.

The Southside west building housed fourth- and fifth-grade students and the Southside east building housed second- and third-grade students. Dan was principal of the older students and Marilyn worked in second grade.

When the couple moved to Siloam Springs, their three sons Jacob, Jon and Joel were in grades 11, eight and five, respectively.

Marilyn said her family came to love Siloam Springs .

"It's still has that small town atmosphere and people are just wonderful," she said. "There are wonderful people in Siloam Springs. And the school system is pretty progressive, especially for a town this size. Our administration keeps on top of things and are always looking to see what we can do that's best for kids."

One of Dan's most memorable events in Siloam Springs was decorating Southside Elementary School like the 2004 movie "The Polar Express." Dan dressed as the conductor and students hopped on the bus for a field trip to watch the movie in theaters.

Another achievement came during the 2007-2008 school year when Southside Elementary School (grades three through five at the time) received a $39,979 check for the school's improvement on state standardized tests.

"It has been an honor to finish up my professional career here at Southside Elementary," Dan wrote in a goodbye letter to teachers. "Working with you and the SSSD administration couldn't have been a better situation for me, Marilyn and the boys."

Marilyn said some of her best memories are the funny things that students say and the relationships she has formed with her coworkers.

"The people I have worked with are just fantastic," she said, growing emotional. "And I'm going to miss that a lot. I won't miss the meetings and paperwork and a lot of parts of the job, but I'll miss the people. I'll miss the kids."

Teflon Dan

Instructional facilitator Rebecca Defreece has worked with Dan since he came to Siloam Springs. During the couple's first year in Arkansas, she had their youngest son Joel in her classroom and got to know both Dan and Marilyn.

Dan was very relaxed and congenial with staff and students, but everyone always knew he was the boss and had the final say, she said.

"We called him 'Teflon Dan,' because he just outwardly let things just roll off," Defreece said. "He didn't ever get upset. People would come in and rant and be aggravated and he would just say, 'That's just how they process.' He would say, 'It'll take care of itself.' I never saw him angry or flustered, in all those years, and I'm sure he was, but he hid it."

His background as a counselor was invaluable and his calm demeanor had a settling effect on the students, she said.

When boys would struggle in school, Dan would bring them back to the office and have coffee with them.

"That was a treat for the boys," she said. "It was a treat for the teacher because it gave them something else to focus on. He seemed to have a really good relationship with the kids."

Another one of Dan's good qualities was that he took care of the building, Defreece said. He pushed to keep it painted and to make sure it was safe, clean and up-to-date. He was also quick to make sure teachers had everything they needed.

Siloam Springs was one of the first schools in the state to pioneer the instructional facilitator program.

"We had an excellent working model of how a principal and instructional facilitators work together," she said.

Retirement

Dan and Marilyn said they have been asked many times about their plans for retirement, but they are looking forward to the prospect of not having a plan for once.

"We have no plans and I'm kind of looking forward to that, just figuring it out you know, going with the flow," Marilyn said. "I wouldn't mind just chilling for a while. With teaching you work really hard and stay very busy, with raising boys you stay very busy, and so I'm just looking forward to some down time for a while until we figure out what we want to do or volunteer at or not. We'd like to travel. We'll see, I don't know."

The couple has also encountered a lot of people who seem surprised that they want to retire together, but that was always the plan,

"A lot of people seem really surprised about that, but it just seems very natural to us," she said. "Dan is my best friends so it just seems like the normal, natural thing to do."

General News on 06/27/2018

Print Headline: 'What's best for kids'

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