Irving Elementary Principal Kim Fleak makes sure students stay engaged — even when they’re waiting for the afternoon bus.
During her afternoon “bus duty,” Fleak, 48, has the kids do their homework or read while they sit on the hall floor. She walks around the clusters of students, helping and visiting with them.
After the students leave, she often retreats to her office.
“I’m usually here as late as 7, 7:30. Very rarely do I leave before 5:30,” she said. “Some principals like to come in the early morning, and there are others who feel like we focus the most when it’s quiet after school. I think most of us spend the majority of our school day with our teachers, with our children. We do not feel that is the time to do paperwork and reports.”
Fleak said she comes from a long line of educators. She said her grandfather Sylven Carroll was a coach, teacher, principal, and superintendent before he became the Muskogee County school superintendent. She said her mother taught for 20 years.
Fleak’s teaching or administrative experience includes four years at St. Joseph Catholic School, 11 years at what is now Rougher Alternative Academy, four years as Harris-Jobe Elementary principal and four as Irving principal.
Through all those years, even when growing up, Fleak focused on building relationships.
Relationships built through teamwork
Kim Fleak learned a lot about relationships while playing basketball.
“I played basketball from third grade to 12th,” she said.
At Mounds High School, Fleak played defense on a 6-on-6 basketball team. In 6-on-6, the offense plays on one half of the court, defense on the other.
The team made the 2A state finals for several years during the 1980s.
“Probably my biggest moment was playing in what we called the Big House in Oklahoma City,” she said, referring to the state fairgrounds arena. “Coming out of the locker room, we were just in awe. It was definitely the largest gym I had ever played in.”
Fleak said basketball taught her “discipline, teamwork and just all-around relationships.”
“The girls I played with played together from third grade through high school, which leads me to believe that sports can save a child from what might otherwise be a difficult school year,” she said. “The more relationships they can build, the better and more successful they can be in life.”
Building relationships as an educator
After graduating in a class with 35 students, Fleak attended Northeastern State University. Her first teaching job was at Angus Valley Elementary in Sand Springs. When she moved to Muskogee, she taught four years at St. Joseph Catholic School.
Then she taught in Muskogee Public Schools alternative program, now known as Rougher Alternative Academy. She eventually became the program’s principal.
“The biggest thing for me at the time was kind of culture shock, coming from a Catholic school, where I had 12 students to the alternative school,” Fleak said. “What I found was that the students I served over those 11 years were so meaningful to me. I felt like the relationships I was able to build was meaningful to them.”
Those relationships continue today, she said.
“I have so many former students from the program who have kids here at Irving,” she said. “To see what kind of parents they’ve become has been a very meaningful experience for me.”
Fleak now oversees a school with more than 390 students. However, she said, she still finds ways to help students establish relationships.
“I think building relationships with members of the community is highly important and makes a difference for our children,” she said. “It’s not just ‘our little school.’ We are part of the a bigger and better thing later in life.”
Community ties important, too
Fleak seeks to build relationships with the outside community.
She said she and her husband are big supporters of civic organizations and said she was active in the Service League of Muskogee.
“We like to be out and about in the community,” she said. “We love the Chili Cook-Off. We love the events that are held at OMHOF (Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame), Honor Heights, the activities they have there with the Azalea Festival and the Garden of Lights.”
She wants her students to have that community spirit, too.
“We’ve done several community support activities, raising funds,” she said. “At our school, we helped a little girl at Hilldale who had cancer. We raised money for a gentleman who was attacked by a dog. I think our entire community is that way. When someone is in need, everybody does their part to help.”
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I met my husband through a mutual friend and we were married in 1993. He and his father own a family business, Muskogee Metal Fabricators, here in town, and living anywhere else was not even a thought.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“What I like most about Muskogee is the friendliness of the people. I enjoy that we have several civic clubs and organizations in this town that fit a multitude of interests. I also love that we have premier schools and parks for the children. Another thing I love is that I can be anywhere in this town in a span of 10 to 15 minutes, and from home to work in about three.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“I would really like to see more industry brought into our city. The other thing that I think would make Muskogee better is for the citizens of Muskogee to have a more positive attitude about our town and in particular, our schools. Working together to promote our city is vital.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
“ I think the one I admire the most would be my late mother-in-law, Patricia Fleak. She loved this community very much. She was very involved in Service League, supporting local charities, and volunteering in the schools when her children were young. Many conversations between the two of us were about the history of Muskogee.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“A couple of things come to mind. Volunteering for many years at the Annual Exchange Club Chili Cook-Off. The other thing was receiving and accepting a grant from the Jimmie Johnson Foundation for the community walking trail and outdoor classroom when I was principal at Harris-Jobe.”
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“I don’t really have a large amount of spare time, but when I do it is spent with family and friends. My time in the summer, if I am not working summer school, is spent by the pool.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR FEWER?
“Muskogee is a large community with such great potential. It’s a community in which people truly care for one another. It’s home.”