Defend retires

Superintendent Len Defend sits at his desk in the Cowden-Herrick unit office. Defend will retire this year after serving 13 years as district superintendent.

COWDEN — As he serves his last few weeks as the superintendent of the Cowden-Herrick school district, Len Defend can be confident that he is leaving the school district with all of its finances in place and more modern facilities for the students and staff.

Some of the greatest accomplishments Defend said he has had in his 13-year tenure with the school district have been bringing the district into sound fiscal shape while still being able to complete the new Cowden Grade School building.

“That has been a real plus for me,” Defend said.

Cowden-Herrick High School principal Gary Cadwell said that when Defend first joined the district it was going through financial hardships and Defend’s leadership was able to bring the district into a position where it was always operating in the black.

Ensuring the district’s finances have been in order has always been one of Defend’s top priorities and Cadwell said he was able to do so without compromising any of the district’s needs.

“He always had an eye out for the future of the district,” Cadwell said.

When Cadwell assumes the position of superintendent at the beginning of next month, he said he will bring with him the knowledge he has learned from Defend on how to run a financially stable district.

The philosophy Defend said he has always had in making budgets for the district is to never plan to spend more than the district will be bringing in. A school district cannot commit to adding new staff or new programs without having the funds in place to cover the costs.

The district has been fortunate to receive some grant funding throughout the years, including one grant that covered the cost of improving technology in the schools, Defend said.

Defend’s last year with the school district also has been the first year Cowden students have inhabited the new elementary school building that was a part of his vision for the district’s future.

The district received Illinois school construction grant funds to pay for a portion of the new grade school building, which is attached to the high school. The new school building replaced the outdated 101-year old building that was the former Cowden Grade School.

Defend began his career in education in 1963 as a high school math teacher in Nashville, Ill. Throughout his high school and college days, Defend said he was enthusiastic about math and enjoyed helping others he knew with math problems so he thought being a math teacher would be a good idea for his career path.

And he was right.

Defend said he always enjoyed teaching and did not move into an administration position until after going through a doctorate program for educational administration in 1988. Prior to coming to Cowden-Herrick, Defend was superintendent with school districts in Stonington and Kansas.

Now preparing for his retirement days, Defend said he knows he will miss the district staff members who have become his friends over the years.

Defend does not have any specific plans yet for his retirement, except to spend time with his wife Mary Sue, who is retired, and working on his golf game.

Defend has been working closely with Cadwell for the last year to help him ease into the position of superintendent and believes he will be able to keep the district moving in the same positive direction.

“He has a real heart for the school district,” Defend said of Cadwell.

Amber Williams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 135 or


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