Stanislaus County will lose a wealth of administrative experience at school year's end with the retirements of Sylvan Superintendent John Halverson and Empire Superintendent Bob Price.
Price, 62, has led the Empire district for 20 years. Halverson, 60, joined Sylvan 10 years ago. Both announcements came Friday.
Before his stint at Empire, Price was an administrator at Tracy Unified. His first teaching job was at Wakefield Elementary in Turlock. He said Friday that he has enjoyed every day, but it's time.
"With age and years of service, I actually will break even or make money by retiring," he said.
The district has faced tough financial decisions over the past few years after being hit by state cutbacks and a steep drop in enrollment, from 4,244 in 2002-03 to a little less than 3,000 last year.
But Price said the district has found its fiscal footing, and student test scores moved solidly up this year.
"I think we are well-positioned for somebody with that youthful energy. It's time for someone to come in and put a new twist on things," he said.
Price credited a well-functioning board for the district's stability through hard times. "It helps we don't have a lot of disagreement in the background, not a lot of drama. We have a lot of support," he said.
Empire will have good people in place to carry on, Price said. And he's working on getting technology programs in place for the coming switch to digital.
Empire Union board President Loretta Stein said Price's expertise and extensive network will be missed.
"He's extremely knowledgeable," having held leadership positions with statewide associations for administrators, middle schools and others, Stein said Friday.
"He's been fantastic to work with. We've had to make some really tough decisions, but he's been really supportive," she said.
Big shoes to fill at Sylvan
On the Sylvan Union board, President Terriann Zeek said Halverson also will leave large shoes to fill.
"He has made a huge difference in our school district," she said Friday, and has brought innovative ideas and a culture of trust.
"He's highly skilled and inspirational, but he's also a very humble man, and that's a powerful combination," Zeek said.
Halverson's career had humble beginnings. His first teaching job was in a tiny district near Oroville. He and his wife bought 10 acres of land and lived in an old school bus, raising chicken and pigs, until he built his first house.
The young family lived on $8,000 a year until the district head quit in the winter of 1979. "A board member drove into the driveway and asked me if I wanted to be superintendent. It paid $200 more a month," Halverson recalled.
So his administrative days began, as superintendent and principal of then-100-student Bangor Union Elementary. He moved on to Amador County Unified, then to the Nevada City School District. His time in Sylvan started in 2003.
At the time, he said he would begin by listening, a practice Halverson said he still values. "No one is as smart as all of us," he said, and getting everyone's input is the best way to get the best results.
Halverson said he arrived in a district that has always had great people. "That's the power of Sylvan the people," he said.
"How do you keep raising student achievement? By all people, not just teacher leaders classified leaders and everyone becoming engaged in the work," he said.
Helping develop those leaders in the trenches is how he's seen his job and how he knows the district will be fine after he leaves.
"It's sort of like putting your hand in water. I can celebrate the fact that when I leave they'll just fill in all around," he said. "You know the best leadership is where people say, 'We did it ourselves.' "
The board will start the process of replacing him Tuesday at its annual leadership session.
"As they go through the process, they need to be wise consumers," Halverson said.
"A really important piece is defining who we are as an organization," he said. Articulating the district's values and goals will help narrow the field and help candidates "realize what a great opportunity this would be," he said, almost wistfully.
"I wish I was 10 years younger. It would be a great opportunity to start in (this job now). We're on the right track, I think quality of teaching is better than I've ever seen in my career. We're looking at better ways to reach children," Halverson said.
Then again, he said, "You've got to have balance. This job has been really important to me, but it's only one spoke on the wheel."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.