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UPDATE | McCarthy to step down as superintendent

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy tells a joke to Bob Truelich during a holiday singalong at the Kiwanis meeting on Thursday. McCarthy told his fellow Kiwanians about his retirement after morning meetings where he shared the news with school district employees. - Brian Kelly / The Record
South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy tells a joke to Bob Truelich during a holiday singalong at the Kiwanis meeting on Thursday. McCarthy told his fellow Kiwanians about his retirement after morning meetings where he shared the news with school district employees.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy will retire at the end of the school year.

The announcement was made public shortly after midnight at the end of the school board’s meeting Wednesday, after board members held a closed-door executive session to talk about McCarthy’s employment contract.

“It just seems like a good time for me personally and professionally and for the district,” McCarthy, 64, said Thursday.

District officials said McCarthy’s departure was expected. He was hired by the school board in September 2006, and had planned to serve the district until 2012. His departure is effective June 30.

McCarthy said the recent failure of the school bond was not a factor in his decision to retire.

“It certainly would have been a positive for me if the bond had passed,” he said. “I thought the bond concept was well-conceived.”

“He will be missed and hard to replace,” said Molly MacLeod-Roberts, the leader of the campaign for November’s bond measure.

“He came to our district when we were in pretty dire straits, and has really turned things around for the better,” she said. “Rather than being in the red, our district now has a 6-percent reserve. That reserve was built in spite of the declining enrollment and the drastic cuts in state and federal funding.”

School Board Chairman Rich Parker said he wasn’t sure how McCarthy’s retirement would impact the consolidation effort.

“That’s hard to say right now,” Parker said, adding that the issues of declining enrollment and restructuring remain.

McCarthy’s existing contract runs through the end of June 2012, and Parker said McCarthy asked to be released early. Parker praised McCarthy for turning around the relationship between the board and the district’s top employee.

“Since 2004 we’ve had a very positive, productive, respectful relationship between the board and the superintendent,” said Parker, who was the only member of the current board who was there when McCarthy was hired.

“I’m very pleased that as Fred leaves, he leaves on that high note,” Parker said.

“I think he’s just done an outstanding job, and I wish him all the best,” said School Board Member Fred O’Neal.

O’Neal recalled McCarthy’s work to get the district on a firm financial footing, and the continuing improvements to curriculum.

“He pretty much checked off all the boxes as he went along, and did all the things we hired him for,” O’Neal said. “I was kind of hoping he would stick with it for a little more time.”

Though McCarthy plans to continue living on Whidbey, he said his best memories while superintendent were the people he met.

“I really admire the way that people take care of people here,” he said. “There’s a magical dimension to life out here. People stop and take time to care about each other, and that’s something we value tremendously.”

Parker said the school board will talk about the process for finding a replacement for McCarthy in January.

“The first step the board needs to determine is if we’re going to do a superintendent search, or do an interim [superintendent],” Parker said.

“We want to continue moving the district forward,” he said. “There’s some momentum here with student achievement, and we don’t want to see that affected.”

McCarthy’s announcement was timely, O’Neal said, because there are qualified people looking for work if the board decides to conduct the search sooner rather than later.

“If we really want to go do a superintendent search, the pool is still out there. If he would have waited until April or May, it would have been slim pickin’s,” O’Neal said.

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