Pieces of life create portrait of dean

March 18 2008

TERRE HAUTE - Just as Brad Balch pieces together stained glass into a work of art, the sections of his life create a portrait of the man.

As the new dean of the Indiana State University College of Education, Balch spends hours managing the college’s affairs and reaching out to students. Other pieces of his life - family, pilot training, the Air Force Reserves, antiques, stained glass and auto racing - complete the picture within an education career framework.

That interest in education began with his mother, who was also an educator.

“We spent a lot of time at the schools - evenings, weekends - even during the summer times and I think her enthusiasm and commitment caused me to one day want to make the same kind of contribution,” he said.

Balch obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and began teaching before earning his pilot’s license and spending a stint in the Air Force.

“Leadership training in the military was very mission-centered, so I think that probably one of the most forming pieces of my military experience was that persistent focus on mission,” he said.

Married with two children, it’s his 20-year-old son, Greg, who flies him into the wild blue yonder now.

“When he was 1 and 2 years of age, I would strap Greg in a child seat and take him up. He would play Army and I would buzz around a satellite tower or a radio tower and he’d pretend to shoot it,” Balch said about his son. “It was fun the first time Greg took me up and flew me around and took me where I wanted to go.”

History, of family and place, also has forged links in Balch’s life including his hobbies of antiques, stained glass and auto racing.

Balch’s enjoyment of antiques is a passion he shares with his wife, Tonya, co-director of ISU’s school counseling program, and resulted in a present that he found at a farmhouse.

“My wedding gift to my wife was a 1911 Apollo baby grand piano, and when the movers picked it up, it split the sound board in half, but that was just the beginning,” Balch said. “The pegs were coming unglued. It was in terrible shape, but I fell in love with that old ebony baby grand piano and my wife is a wonderful classical piano player.”

He contacted a piano restoration company in Lafayette about restoring it and was told it would take three to four years.

“It waited in line until it was its turn to be fully restored,” he said. “They did a wonderful job, so I still get joy from just sitting down and listening to my wife play at night.”

Balch and his wife opened an antiques store in 1996 - 100 years after the business opened its doors and 50 years after his grandfather bought the Golden Rule department store in Crawfordsville. The Balchs filled their antique store with the clothing store’s memorabilia, and named their store the Golden Rule Antique Company.

Antiques have played a role in another hobby of Balch's - creating stained-glass pieces.

“Every stained-glass piece I’ve made has at least a 100-year-old piece of glass in it,” he said. “I will buy, usually, a 1-foot by 1-foot sheet of old stained glass and in whatever I’m making, I’ll hide a piece of that old glass in there to carry forward some of the history. My daughter, Katy, is my greatest fan of stained glass creations, using them as sun catchers in her bedroom windows.”

Balch also is connected to Indiana’s historic racing industry. His step-grandfather, Louis Meyer Sr., won the Indianapolis 500 in 1928, 1933 and 1936.

“It was Louis Meyer who started the milk tradition and actually drank buttermilk,” Balch said.

Meyer, along with his son, Louis Meyer Jr. who is Balch’s stepfather, formed the Meyer-Drake Engineering Company and built Offenhauser racing engines for 19 years. His stepfather worked on many teams that have won the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s been fun to be a part of that through the years,” Balch said.

Those same years have taken Balch through many open doors in the education world.

He has worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and superintendent as well as served on a school board and trained future school administrators through ISU’s department of education leadership, administration and foundations.

Rebecca Libler, ISU assistant dean of the College of Education, taught Balch in an ISU school and community relations class and later supervised his principal internship.

“His progression from teacher in a middle school to dean of the College of Education has been a swift ascent, some might say meteoric. His experience and mature outlook on life gave him a distinct advantage in the early years of his educational career, but his natural leadership qualities have always been evident,” she said. “These, coupled with his intellect, wit, caring attitude and plain old hard work have brought him to where he is now.”

A question after Balch was evaluated while teaching a high school geometry class started him toward the administration side of education.

“The assistant principal asked me if I’d ever thought about administration and quite honestly, at that point, I was still thinking about being a good parent and a good teacher and a coach,” he said. “I just hadn’t thought about that next step.”

That question initiated a series of changes in his life. Balch completed ISU’s Educational Administrative Internship program and a year later began working as an assistant principal and then moved into a principal position.

After serving a few years in different principal positions, Balch began to have some professionally defining moments.

"I realized that dealing with human relations issues or people problems, challenges - those areas - were intriguing to me, or of interest," he said. “It turned out those were some challenging years and really tested my leadership capacity. I think one of the lessons learned from that tenure as a middle school principal is that your professional character and the character of a school will be tested when the chips are down and things aren’t going well. I had many opportunities to test not only my character, but to test the integrity of the school’s character and it was just a very rewarding experience.”

As Balch finished his doctorate in educational administration from ISU, he received a call from a placement director about a superintendent vacancy in Covington.

“I had accomplished some tough agenda items, teaching and learning agenda items that were challenging in my middle school administrative practice and so I was, at that point, anxious to embrace the difficult district-level challenges that had to be confronted,” he said.

Balch listened as the university recruiter explained the district had not had a settled contract for several years and employees had filed grievances about unfair labor practices.

“He thought it would be a good challenge for me and I thought, well I’ll at least interview for the job,” he said.

He did more than interview; he accepted the position when offered.

Suellen Reed, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, who visited the Covington school district while Balch was superintendent, described him as “energetic and forward-thinking.”

While working as a superintendent at that school, he was asked to teach a class at ISU in the educational leadership department.

“I consistently try to carve out ways to teach,” he said. “Even when I was an administrator I missed teaching opportunities and so I continued to seek those out…I simply fell in love with adult teaching and learning.”

Greg Ulm, ISU professor emeritus, is the one who offered Balch an adjunct position.

“Brad has the soul of a servant leader,” he said. “He listens not only to the words, but the emotion. He inspires others, gives them confidence, cares about them and encourages them. He touches their spirit. He is very good at helping others to accomplish what is important and necessary.”

Balch became an assistant professor at ISU in 2001 and achieved tenure in August 2005. He served as chairperson of ISU’s department of educational leadership, administration and foundations from 2003 to 2005. He was selected as dean in July 2007.

“His first-hand experience with teachers, students and administrators, along with his background in higher education, make him an exceptionally well prepared dean,” Reed said. “I particularly enjoy meeting with the education deans and talking about what is going on at the universities and with the partnerships that they have with our K-12 school districts. Brad is respected by his peers, and is a colleague whose opinion I personally value.”

Through being tapped on the shoulder for different leadership positions, Balch said he learned an important lesson.

“Not everyone enters leadership opportunities out of self-selection. They don’t always just decide to do that,” he said. “It’s important that there be those in any discipline that invite others into the business or socialize them into the business leadership. I’ve made it a point, over the years, to tap others on the shoulders and invite them into leadership opportunities.”

Ulm described Balch as a person of strong values and beliefs.

“We can depend on him and have faith in his ability to do the right thing. He is a person of integrity, with significant insight into our moral responsibility to teach and lead for all,” he said. “His belief system also makes it possible for him to make difficult decisions, to understand that what is necessary is not always easy.”

Because of his experience and background, Libler said she has no doubt Balch will continue to hold positions of even greater responsibility.

“He holds himself and others to high standards,” she said. “He has accomplished much and yet remains humble and still retains the ability to laugh at himself. People are drawn to Brad and generally want to help him accomplish his goals and implement his ideas. This is truly the mark of a great leader.”

-30 -

Contact: Brad Balch, Indiana State University, dean of the College of Education, at 812-237-2919 or bbalch@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or at jsicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/243798352_SrNeR-D.jpg

Cutline: Brad Balch, dean of the College of Education, shows a piece of his stained glass. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/243795954_eY52M-D.jpg

Cutline: Brad Balch, dean of the College of Education. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Bookmark and Share

Story Highlights

As the new dean of the Indiana State University College of Education, Brad Balch spends hours managing the college's affairs and reaching out to students. Other pieces of his life - family, pilot training, the Air Force Reserves, antiques, stained glass and auto racing - complete the picture within an education career framework.

Bookmark and Share