Turlock school district chief, Gibson, retiring; he's most proud of Pitman

TURLOCK -- After almost 16 years as superintendent, Wil-liam Gibson is waving goodbye.

Gibson will retire in June at the end of the school year. He announced his intentions in a letter Tuesday to Turlock Unified School District employees.

"I believe we all know when it is time to retire, and I believe it is now time," he wrote. "I am at peace with the decision, because, as corny as it sounds, I have done everything I intended to do or was capable of doing."

Gibson's proudest achievement, he wrote in the letter, was seeing a second comprehensive high school open up -- Pitman in 2002. Faced with vigorous opposition, it took more than one pull at the ballot box to get the necessary school bond approved by voters.

A day after he was hired by the district, Gibson described his philosophy to The Bee: "In a client-centered environment, the focus is on the student, not on the curriculum, not on the books. The student, as with an attorney or doctor, becomes the client and requires the same amount of respect. It should be our job to help the client succeed."

Wednesday, Gibson was more reclusive. The letter, he said, tells the whole story.

"No interviews, no press releases," district spokeswoman Janet Pohl-De Mello said. "He just wants to sail away."

Gibson started teaching history in Torrance 40 years ago, after earning a bachelor's degree in history from Long Beach State University. He went on to get his master's at Long Beach and a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California. In 1984, he started as superintendent at Oroville Union High School District. He also taught history at Oroville's community college.

"He was the unanimous choice of all 10 board members, and that was after reviewing 65 applicants," said Bill Mayhew, who was president of the Turlock Joint Union High School District trustees when Gibson was hired.

Educator 'brought a new vision'

Gibson signed on as Turlock's superintendent in July 1992. In November 2003, the elementary and high school districts unified.

"Bill brought a new vision to the district," said Trustee Victor Pedroza, who was on the elementary board when Gibson was hired. "We had changing demographics, low test scores, particularly among Hispanics. He changed that. He changed the way we were doing business."

Turlock faced unprecedented growth in the 1990s and Gibson knew enough to collaborate with the city, planning for the change with inventive building fees set for school development.

"He led us through an era of tremendous growth," board President Felica Renshaw said. "Three elementary schools, a comprehensive high school, a junior high gymnasium, we've passed three bonds, he's spearheaded our current modernization project -- there have been a number of good things that have transpired in his time."

Gibson biggest achievement, Renshaw said, was choice. He saw the opening of two elementary magnet programs, a gifted program, Freedom High School and a bilingual immersion program.

In his letter to staff, Gibson commented on the variety of options Turlock parents have: "I am pleased 'choice' has become an accepted concept in Turlock."

Renshaw and Pedroza said while they have mixed feelings about Gibson's retirement, they're looking toward the future. The board will consider headhunting firms at its Oct. 16 meeting and hopes to have a search process set up by November.

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.