Mary Frances Callan retirement letter | News | Palo Alto Online |


Mary Frances Callan retirement letter


December 1, 2006

Mandy Lowell, President

Camille Townsend, Vice President

Board of Education

Palo Alto Unified School District

25 Churchill Avenue

Palo Alto, CA 94306

Dear Mandy and Camille

I write to you and your fellow board members with mixed emotions to announce my retirement effective August 30, 2007.

When I became Superintendent in January 2002, I made it clear I was committing to a five-year tenure. I realized this summer that I was about to reach that five-year mark. I also realized that, given the current extended timelines for superintendent's searches, I would need to let you know of my plans prior to 2007 so that the Board would have sufficient time to find my replacement. As fond as I am of meeting deadlines, I am fonder still of this wonderful school district, its students, its staff, and the many, many volunteers who have worked so tirelessly on its behalf. I look forward to finishing this school year and completing the Attendance Area Review, Mandarin Immersion Feasibility Study, and District Priorities so that a smooth transition can occur for my successor.

I used the term "mixed emotions"- a phrase that does not do justice to my feelings. I am excited to move on to the next stage of my life after 41 years of service in education, 13 of them in California, and to pursue other interests. I am also so proud to have been a part of our District's remarkable successes over my tenure. However, I appreciate the opportunity I had to lead the District team in calm times and stormy ones as all of us strived for what was best for our students.

We were able to accomplish so much as a team and to build further on PAUSD's strong foundation of high expectations and high performance. We faced some terrible challenges over those years. Palo Alto - along with all of our Basic Aid colleagues - faced our first-ever concerted attack from Sacramento. I am proud of my role in leading with you the nearly 60 districts in Schools for Sound Finance to eventual victory and proud of the role that our entire community played in spearheading the magnificent grassroots backlash to that challenge.

We saw our categorical funding wither during those years as well, and then, in a perfect fiscal storm, an unprecedented reduction of our local property taxes leading to a $6 million-plus reduction in general fund revenues at a time when our student enrollment was growing. We made the tough decisions together to protect, as much as possible, our students and our educational programs.

Not all of our challenges were academic or administrative. Together as a community we mourned and reflected and then responded to the student tragedies that reminded us of the terrible fragility of the children we work with and the tremendous stress that they face. We continue to work on this issue as a community.

I wish I could say that all of our challenges have been met and overcome; I don't think that will ever be the case for any district or any educator. We will continue our progress in addressing the achievement gap until it is finally narrowed out of existence. We will continue to face political battles, both local, as with Los Altos Hills currently, as well as at the statewide and national levels. Our budgets will never keep pace with the dreams we have for our students. Our students will continue to be children growing into young adults, with all of the joy and heartache and confusion inherent in that journey.

While issues come and go and evolve into new concerns, I do believe that my efforts have strengthened the District's capacity to respond when topics are raised. By instituting "Excellence by Design," our team established a process for a data driven, continuous improvement process that can only improve our District over the long term. I have held the line on District expenditures, and not just in the area of benefits costs, where I've been in the vanguard of school efforts. I've also worked line-item by line-item to hold down costs and squeezed administrative support expenses to an absolute minimum to maximize classroom support, as evidenced by the Partner's in Education Foundation benchmarking study. (In fact, given our improved fiscal situation and our increased management responsibilities, it is now time to fill some of those eliminated administrative positions, as we said we would.)

In addition, we have revised staffing policies to ensure equity of resource distribution throughout the District. Relations with the District's collective bargaining units are the best they have been in years due to increased trust through open communication. I've also worked hard on the revenue side, working with PAPiE and assisting in the campaign for a new, larger parcel tax. Together we successfully completed the Building For Excellence projects funded by the 1994 bond and established new monitoring procedures for future projects.

As with any exceptional district, current work lays the groundwork for future efforts. This year's accomplishments - completing the Area Attendance Area review, the Mandarin Immersion Feasibility Study, the draft of the 20-Year Facilities Plan, and District Priorities will feed into 2007-08 Major Projects. These projects may include a High School Task Force and World Languages Implementation Study at the elementary level. The results of this work will inform the 2008-2012 Strategic Plan Review and the final decisions regarding the Facilities Plan in January 2008. As new board members are elected in November 2007, they, along with the new superintendent, will be able to build on this work and set a direction for the future.

For all the importance of our administrative and fiscal efforts, our core mission remains education, and I am most proud of the gains made here. We continue to improve our API and AYP scores and are recognized as one of the highest performing districts in the state. Ninety-two percent of our graduates go to college; our average SAT score is 1278; and over 48% of our students score 5's on their APs. Our staff and students continue to receive recognition for their outstanding work locally, regionally, and nationally.

I am equally proud of our efforts to serve those students who need an extra hand. At the end of this year's Literacy Summer School, in which almost 300 students read more than 10,000 pieces of literature, we received a parent note. "Thank you for all your hard work," it read. "It's very comforting to know there are programs to help my child and so many wonderful teachers who really enjoy teaching."

That is what I believe I've fostered and what I trust will go on after I have left - hard work by a team of dedicated, talented, highly skilled educators on behalf of the young people we are fortunate to serve.

I want to thank you again for the opportunity to lead the very best school district in the country.


Mary Frances Callan, Ph.D.


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