Superintendent Rick Schmitt has announced that he plans to retire at the end of the school year in June after four years at the helm of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
Schmitt, in a message to the SRVUSD community on Thursday, called his tenure in the San Ramon Valley "an exceptional capstone" to his 40 years in the education profession. The Castro Valley native also spent time as a social studies teacher, school administrator in Livermore and superintendent in San Diego County during his career.
"I am most grateful for the personal and professional relationships that I have been able to form with district managers, teachers, classified staff, the Board of Education, parents and community leaders," Schmitt, 62, said. "Together we have been able to lead an already excellent school district to greater heights through some of the most trying times imaginable."
He added, "It is with very mixed emotions that after 40 years in public education, I have decided to retire at the end of this school year. Throughout my career, my wife, my two children and my extended family have all supported me, and I now hope to spend time supporting them."
Acknowledging his retirement announcement comes amid the novel coronavirus crisis, Schmitt said, "While I understand that these are incredibly challenging times, it is my hope that by announcing my decision now, the Board of Education will find the best candidate to lead this extraordinary district into the future."
The school board is scheduled to discuss Schmitt's pending departure and the search process for finding his replacement during a teleconference-only special meeting on Friday morning. The goal is to hire a successor by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Two SRVUSD board members offered comments Thursday, praising Schmitt's tenure and lamenting the loss of his leadership after June 30.
“We are very disappointed to be losing a phenomenal superintendent of schools," Board President Greg Marvel said in a statement released by SRVUSD.
"Rick Schmitt inherited a very high performing school district that was just recovering from the Great Recession," Marvel added. "He implemented major new initiatives that provided even more services and options to our students and helped us continue to provide one of the best public education experiences in California. He will be sorely missed."
“I’m really going to miss Rick," Trustee Rachel Hurd said. "I have found him to be a dedicated educator who is committed to doing what’s right for kids, acknowledging that every idea is not for every student, but by creating options and flexibility we build a better system for all kids."
"He has been true to his trademark phrase, ‘feedback is welcome,’ and has been a true pleasure to work and lead with," Hurd added.
The school board is now tasked with recruiting for a permanent superintendent, a search process the board members will begin on Friday during a teleconference meeting and carry on during what could well be the height of the statewide and national COVID-19 crisis.
District staff recommends the board retain private firm Leadership Associates to lead the search process during the coming months. It's the same company SRVUSD contracted with in early 2016 to conduct the nationwide recruitment that resulted in Schmitt's appointment.
The board's agenda packet for Friday includes a copy of the draft contract for $32,500 signed by a Leadership Associates official and unsigned by the district -- but the draft is dated March 5, even though Schmitt's announcement just became public Thursday.
Schmitt's decision continues a familiar trend for the district; he is the third consecutive superintendent to announce their retirement during their fourth year with SRVUSD.
Schmitt joined SRVUSD in July 2016, rising to the top in the board's national search for a successor to then-superintendent Mary Shelton.
A native of Castro Valley, Schmitt boasted over three decades in education at the time, including time teaching history, government and economics at various schools as well as vice principal (Granada High) and principal (East Avenue Middle) in Livermore earlier in his career.
He moved to the San Diego area in 1999 to be closer to his aging parents, holding different high school principal positions before shifting to the district office at the San Dieguito Union High School District, based in Encinitas in north-coastal San Diego County.
Schmitt had three years as San Dieguito superintendent under his belt when he was hired at SRVUSD heading into the 2016-17 school year. He and wife Lyssa then relocated to the San Ramon Valley. (They have two adult children.)
"During my four-year tenure as superintendent of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, I have had the great privilege of working together with a highly dedicated and collaborative group of educators and staff, a supportive community and a committed Board of Education, all of whom consistently keep students’ needs at the forefront of their agenda," Schmitt said Thursday, reflecting on his time in the Valley.
"It has been an extraordinary honor to partner with you through these last four years, as we shared both the successes and the challenges," he added.
With Schmitt as superintendent, the district continued its record of strong academic and extracurricular success for San Ramon Valley students, and he was at the helm for the completion of two of the largest Measure D bond-funded projects -- San Ramon Valley High School's classroom building and Stone Valley Middle School's modernization.
But Schmitt's tenure was also marked by challenges such as tense labor negotiations with the San Ramon Valley Education Association nearly every year and community criticism in the wake of SRVHS freshman Ben Curry drowning to death unnoticed in the school pool during PE class in May 2018.
For their part, district leaders on Thursday cited several specific Schmitt priorities that highlighted the past four years in their eyes -- "Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports, providing a respectful working and learning environment, and ensuring that the SRVUSD remains fiscally responsible during a period of declining enrollment."
Schmitt on Thursday also acknowledged that the district finds itself -- like the rest of California -- mired in one of its most difficult situations in memory.
SRVUSD schools have been closed with students sent home for remote learning since mid-March in reaction to state and county health guidelines to help prevent further spread of COVID-19. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he expects the school closures will extend through May and the end of the 2019-20 school year.
"Despite the unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves, the staff and families of the San Ramon Valley have never wavered in their commitment and compassion for students’ academic, social-emotional and personalized learning," Schmitt said, adding:
"I have every confidence that this district will thrive as a destination district well into the future, and I will enjoy watching that success."
Finding a new superintendent
Schmitt said his retirement decision will be finalized during the school board's special meeting on Friday morning, when the board will then discuss next steps to find his successor.
"I am committed to leading this district through my retirement at the end of June, and I look forward to saying goodbye to many of you in person, or as the case may be, by teleconference," Schmitt said. "I do want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for welcoming myself and my family, and especially for what you do every day for our students. You will be remembered and missed."
Schmitt's departure continues SRVUSD's recent superintendent trend of four years then retirement. It was the same tenure timelines for the two previous superintendents as well: Shelton (2012-16) and Steven Enoch (2008-12).
Marvel, who served on the school board for all three of those superintendent hiring cycles, said he expects to again see a competitive recruitment process this time around to lead the highly rated district that currently serves about 31,000 students with 36 different school sites.
"I am confident that we will have a robust pool of highly qualified candidates to interview as we begin the recruitment process," Marvel said Thursday.
Though just three months away from Schmitt's departure date, the district's stated goal is "to find a qualified candidate to lead the San Ramon Valley Unified School District beginning in the 2020-2021 school year."
To that end, the district will discuss approving a contract with Santa Barbara-based Leadership Associates to serve as lead consultant for SRVUSD's superintendent search process.
The proposed contract is for $32,500 to be paid for in two installments, with the first half after the stakeholder input phase is completed and the final half after selection of a finalist. The agreement would also allow for a maximum of $3,000 for travel reimbursement.
The agreement describes the tasks Leadership Associates would need to undertake in its consultant role.
The school board on Friday will also discuss their desired steps for the search process: an overview of the process, board and search firm protocols during the search, timeline, board input on desired qualities and characteristics of candidates, stakeholder input process and a possible online survey.
The board meeting, which begins with closed session at 10 a.m. and then moves to open session at noon, will be live-streamed with the board members participating by teleconference only -- with the district citing the governor's executive order suspending parts of Brown Act open meeting regulations, including in-person requirements, to stem COVID-19 spread.
Instructions for how residents can view and participate in the meeting are available on the district website and in the board's agenda.
In addition to discussing Schmitt's retirement, in closed and open session, the board will talk in open session about the district's ongoing coronavirus response strategy.
District staff notes they are still working to confirm plans for student learning between May 4-29 if in fact on-campus classes are canceled due to coronavirus.
Other closed-session topics include a conversation about labor negotiations with all three employee unions, and four other public employee appointments: transportation director, education services coordinator, assistant director for special education and program supervisor for special education.
Not only will district leaders soon be recruiting for Schmitt's successor, they were already in the midst of the search process for a position in the superintendent's cabinet. Longtime assistant superintendent facilities and operations Gary Black announced his retirement last week, to become effective at school year's end.