JAMESTOWN — Ken Esselstein, former assistant principal at Greeneview High School, walked out of the school building for the last time on Friday, June 13. He’s retiring after working in education for 41 years, 35 of which he spent in the Greeneview School District.
If you know him, and you believe that he won’t be back to the Jamestown high school, there’s probably a plot of land on the moon someone is looking to sell you. He’ll be back.
If he does come back, though, it won’t be in the same role he held for 12 years. No, if he stops by now, it’ll be as a friend of the school.
Esselstein, 64, has been in school since age five.
“It’s a huge chapter of my life,” he said. “I’ve been in school more than I have not been.”
He can recall with clarity the moment when he decided he wanted to be a teacher, and it seems appropriate that this moment took place in a school. He was sitting in a class during his sophomore year of high school when a teacher held up a picture and asked the class what they saw.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, I oughta be able to do better than that,’” he said. “And so ever since I was a sophomore in high school I wanted to teach.”
With that goal in mind, he went on to finish high school, college and graduate school. In 1972 he began his education career at a junior high school in Belfast, Ohio. It was there that he met his wife, Charlotte. They were both first-year teachers at the time. They’ve been married for 41 years.
After teaching at a Catholic school for five years, he began teaching in the Greeneview School District, where he’s worked as a teacher, a coach and an administrator ever since.
In his work, Esselstein was a consistent man, a man of routine. The best example of this was found in his mornings.
“He’s very, very consistent in everything he does right down to arrival,” Greeneview High School Principal Brian Masser said. “You can count on Ken arriving the exact same time.”
After arriving, Esselstein was off to his post at the school’s entrance where he would sit and greet each of the students as they entered. Whether it was making a comment about a new hair style or the big game from the previous night, he let them know he was paying attention.
“I try to make sure they know I’m interested,” he said. “It goes a long way to a healthy relationship with the kids.”
That healthy relationship with students was an important part of his work with student discipline. Mark Rinehart, athletic director for the school district and colleague of Esselstein’s for eleven years, recalled one discipline incident with a laugh.
“It’s one of those unfortunate times where Ken’s had to break up a fight in the cafeteria,” he said. “I’m not sure we really thought that Ken could in these days move as fast as he moved, but he went sprinting across the cafeteria to break up a fight and got in the middle. I think they all went down to the ground. We knew Ken still had it then.”
In some cases his stable presence provided guidance to two or three three generations of students from the same family. That stability was most recently felt at the high school as it made transitions between three principals in four years.
His plans for retirement? His wife wants to travel, although he’s not convinced of the idea. She’s retiring this year too, after 35 years of teaching. Most recently she worked in the Xenia Community School District.
Ken wants to golf, and maybe the travel thing will work out for them, with the couple having a son who lives in Florida.
Wherever he ends up and whatever he ends up doing in his retirement, he’ll be missed at Greeneview.
“We’ve certainly obviously just been blessed to have him for 35 years here at Greeneview,” Masser said. “He’s certainly left his mark here. It’s going to be a difficult transition for our community to come into the building and not see Ken sitting at the door.”
The way Esselstein talks about his time at the school, it’s hard to believe he won’t miss this place. He enjoyed it all.
“Being around the kids helps keep you young,” he said. “The challenges of it, the helping students reach their full potential, trying to get them going on the right path, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I found a job I really enjoy. I like to think I made a difference while I was here.”