Palo Alto's incoming school-district superintendent Tuesday made a commitment to communicate "frequently, openly and clearly" and to balance immediate priorities with a "clear, long-term vision" for education.
Max McGee's comments followed unanimous approval by the Board of Education of a $295,000-a-year contract naming him to lead the Palo Alto Unified School District through June 2018. His start date is Aug. 1.
McGee, a former Illinois state superintendent who for the past seven years has led science- and technology-focused high schools in Illinois and New Jersey, expressed "sincere and profound gratitude to the board for being selected to lead the schools in this wonderful community."
He said experiences working with inner-city youth during his college years led him to switch his career path from engineering to education and to the realization that "education is the key to making the enduring difference that can change the world."
The Palo Alto Unified School District has "these incredible human resources and collective vision that we can develop and nurture to empower students with the intellectual capacity, critical thinking, compassion and resilience to improve the quality of life in our community, our country and across the world," he said.
Referring to outgoing Superintendent Kevin Skelly's habit of bicycling around town and among the district's 18 campuses, McGee said he has "big shoes and a big helmet to fill."
"Thank you for your wise decisions, dynamic, student-centered leadership and incredible legacy," McGee said to Skelly.
School board members and community members thanked Skelly for his seven years of leadership, particularly crediting him with new policies to boost college readiness among traditionally underperforming students, a massive school building program executed under his watch and his optimism and genuine affection for students.
"Whenever you come into a room, if there are students there, you immediately go talk to them," board Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell said.
"Kids just surround you because of your height and warmth," board member Heidi Emberling said. "I remember you getting way down to their level and saying, 'My nickname is Shorty.'"
Skelly said he has no immediate plans other than to take six months to "reflect" -- which includes walking the 500-mile ancient Christian pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago de Compostela in France and Spain with his wife, Carrie.