San Dieguito school board approves new superintendent

ENCINITAS — Construction, curriculum reform and tight budgets are the top challenges Rick Schmitt will face as he prepares to step into the role of superintendent at San Dieguito Union High School District this summer. 

The SDUHSD board of trustees unanimously approved Schmitt’s employment contract at their May 16 meeting. Schmitt, currently employed as deputy superintendent, will take over as superintendent upon the retirement of Ken Noah, who has been superintendent since 2008.

The board’s decision came after a two-month hiring process managed by Leadership Associates, an outside search firm the board hired for $26,500.

Noah, who was not involved in the selection of the new superintendent, said he was thrilled that the board chose Schmitt.

“I think Mr. Schmitt really is a visionary leader on the one hand, but he also is a person who knows how to organize people and organize the work to see that vision fulfilled,” Noah said.

The district will pay Schmitt an annual salary of $220,000. His contract provides 24 vacation days and 12 days of earned sick leave each year. The district will also spend up to $10,000 to hire a professional career coach for the first year of Schmitt’s employment.

Schmitt worked as a middle school principal in the San Francisco Bay area before moving to San Diego in 1999 to take a job as principal of Coronado High School. In 2003 he joined SDUHSD as principal of Torrey Pines High School. The district hired Schmitt as associate superintendent of educational services in 2006, and he was promoted to the newly created position of deputy superintendent in January 2013.

In his new job, Schmitt will lead the district as it begins to spend the $449 million in bond revenue for facility upgrades approved by voters last fall through Proposition AA.

“The good news is we passed a bond, but the bad news is we passed a bond,” joked SDUHSD board President Barbara Groth.

Proposition AA construction will likely disrupt the normal flow of operations at some schools, temporarily displacing athletic teams or science labs, for example.

It will be up to Schmitt, as the “face of the district,” to help parents, students and staff understand and cope with any changes in the status quo, Groth said.

Schmitt’s experience as principal at a school that had to deal with construction made him an appealing candidate for the superintendent position, Groth said.

“He has sat in on planning meetings with architects … and he has been in the trenches and has seen when things don’t work,” Groth said.

While acknowledging that there will be some disruption, Schmitt sounded optimistic in an interview.

“I believe in the end people will see the value in a little disruption, with the big payoff of the best facilities in the region,” Schmitt said.

Another enormous challenge Schmitt will face as superintendent is implementing the new Common Core educational standards in math and language arts classes across the district. Much of the curriculum will have to change to meet those standards.

“It’s gonna be rocky, because any time you have change, you also have fear and misunderstanding,” Groth said.

Schmitt does not seem intimidated by the prospect of overhauling the way key subjects are taught in the classroom.

“I think for us the vision is every step of the way to work with our teachers and let them help us shape it,” Schmitt said.

Finally, Schmitt may have to contend with a fluctuating budget.

Schmitt said he was proud of the way SDUHSD performed through “the lean years” of the recession, with student test scores rising despite budget cutbacks.

With a history of fiscally conservative budgeting, the district was able to avoid some of the more traumatic cuts other districts faced, Schmitt said.

“We planned for the rainy day, and when it came we were ready,” Schmitt said.

Rebuilding that reserve will be a priority, as will maintaining strong relationships and a high level of trust with employee groups, he said.

Schmitt’s first day on the job will be July 1.

His contract expires June 30, 2016.

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