Superintendent Phil Downs added another task Tuesday to the Southwest Allen County Schools board's to-do list: find another district leader.
But he assured the five members they have time to hire his successor. He won't retire until Dec. 31.
“Your legacy is that incredible group of administrators and staff and teachers that we have here,” board President Brad Mills said. “We know we have an incredible team, and that's the best gift you could give us.”
Downs said he is proud of Southwest Allen employees.
“I tell everybody in the state that this is the easiest superintendency in the state because of the quality of people who work here,” said Downs, who was the 2020 Indiana Superintendent of the Year.
Downs, who has led SACS since 2014, said his decision involved long conversations with his wife. They have always thought about retiring young, he said, and the coronavirus pandemic has made them consider how much they enjoy spending time together.
Downs, 55, is excited for the opportunity to do something else, he added.
He began his career in education in 1989 as a Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher. He would later serve in administrative roles at Northwest Allen County Schools before moving to SACS.
In a letter to families announcing his retirement, Downs described his role as SACS superintendent as a “true honor and highlight” of his career.
Downs stressed at the board meeting it's not the time for good-byes.
He wanted to announce his retirement almost a year in advance so there would be ample time to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. The board didn't discuss plans for a superintendent search.
Helping the district navigate through the pandemic also was important to Downs, who provided an update about coronavirus-related staffing challenges to the board.
A shortage of bus drivers prompted SACS to cancel a bus route today and another Thursday, Downs said, noting shortages likely will cause disruption Friday, too.
Additionally, he said, there were eight classrooms throughout the district Tuesday that weren't covered by substitutes.
“We're a little nervous,” Downs said, “but we're hoping that we've made it through the COVID post-holiday surge and hopefully we can continue to staff, and it won't get any worse.”