New schools chief not new to Oakdale district

OAKDALE -- Fred Rich will be the Oakdale Joint Unified School District's next superintendent.

Rich, 58, will replace Wendell Chun. The eight-year veteran announced his retirement earlier this year.

School board members didn't have to look far for his replacement. Rich has been the district's deputy superintendent for two years. Before that, he served as an assistant superintendent for three years.

"This will be the culmination of a lifetime career -- not just being a superintendent, but being superintendent of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District," Rich said.

District officials interviewed Rich for the position before starting a job search.

"Why not Fred Rich?" school board President Mike House posed.

Board members such as House figured Chun would know how Rich compared with candidates who would apply for the position because Chun has helped other districts find superintendents. Chun told board members Rich was extremely well-qualified.

After a long interview with Rich, board members figured they didn't need to look further than their own office to find the kind of leadership Oakdale needs, House said.

High expectations

Rich -- who already is active in groups that benefit the community and schools, such as the Oakdale Educational Foundation -- has high expectations to live up to, said board member Mike Tozzi.

"We expect him to pick up right where Dr. Chun left off: be active in the community; communicate well with parents, teachers, district staff, the board, the press and the kids; be fair; be creative; and keep this district moving forward," Tozzi said.

Rich has had offers to advance in other school districts, but stayed at Oakdale.

He started his career in education by teaching elementary school. Rich has been the principal or vice principal of several schools in Modesto, including Lakewood, Burbank and Franklin elementary schools, and Mark Twain and Roosevelt junior high schools.

"I've had great mentors: Wendell Chun and Dave Mello," the latter an assistant superintendent of Modesto City Schools, Rich said.

Rich said he hopes to maintain the high level of student performance in Oakdale and finish updating the strategic plan, which was drafted about eight years ago. The update should be complete by the end of the year and will help guide how the district grows over the next eight to 10 years.

"The last strategic plan gave us a lot of focus. Now, everything we do goes back to that plan. We can do anything, but not everything," he said.

In addition to finishing some projects, Rich hopes to add vocational education to the district's agenda.

"In light of (federal law) No Child Left Behind, we've focused strongly on academics," Rich said.

Rich figures the district can maintain students' focus on academics, while offering them something more -- a trade skill.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.