RACINE - Superintendent Jim Shaw announced Monday he plans to retire from Racine Unified after three years as the district's leader.
"This was a difficult decision for me. I like my work in Racine. This has been the culmination of my career," Shaw said Monday. He is retiring to spend more time with family including his recently retired wife of 40 years and a new granddaughter. "I understand there's a limited time to enjoy with my family and I want to take advantage of the time that I do have."
Shaw, 66, said turmoil in recent months, from failed referendums to the Legislature changing collective bargaining, cutting state education funding and expanding school choice vouchers to Racine, did not make him more interested in leaving.
"If anything it made the decision more difficult," Shaw said. He explained those issues mean Racine Unified needs stable leadership perhaps now more than ever and if it were not for the capable leadership of the School Board and others in the district he may have delayed his retirement.
But there would never have been a perfect time to go, Shaw said.
"Urban education will always have challenges," he said. "We had challenges the first year I came here and we had challenges this last year. We're going to have challenges next month, next week, tomorrow - that's part of the work in urban education. From that point of view, if I tried to retire at a time when there were no challenges I might be here a long time."
Shaw's retirement will be effective Sept. 1, pending expected School Board approval at a special meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the district's central office, 2220 Northwestern Ave. At that meeting the board is also expected to approve Ann Laing as interim superintendent.
Laing has been with the district more than 20 years. She has been involved in early childhood initiatives and led the way in implementing the inclusion of special education students in regular classrooms as often as possible.
Laing is currently the executive director of instruction and support. There is a plan to fill that position, she said, which will be announced later this week.
As interim superintendent, Laing said she plans to continue Shaw's work, especially that of using student testing data to drive changes in the classroom - Shaw co-authored a book on the subject in 2009 and, according to School Board members, was integral in bringing the practice to Racine.
Laing will also focus on building relationships with community agencies and parents, and will continue emphasizing the North Star initiative, which uses grade-level benchmarks to try and make sure all students graduate college- or career-ready, she said.
"We will be a stable community and we will do everything we can to support kids and support teachers and principals," Laing said.
School Board President Bill Van Atta doesn't doubt it.
"Given Dr. Laing's experience and dedication to student learning, I know our students are in good hands," he said Monday.
Van Atta added Unified and board members "are grateful to Dr. Shaw for the professionalism, dedication and energy he brought to RUSD to advance student learning," create school improvement plans and balance budgets.
Shaw will be used as a model for the School Board's next superintendent hire. The board will begin the search process in September and will look at both internal and external candidates, Van Atta said.
Shaw came to Unified with 40 years experience as a teacher, school psychologist, assistant superintendent and superintendent around Wisconsin and as an education researcher and professor at the University of Wisconsin.
In August 2008, Shaw signed his Unified superintendent contract and a few weeks later rode the bus to school with students on their first day of classes.
Shaw took the place of interim Unified Superintendent Jack Parker, who was filling in after former Superintendent Tom Hicks resigned when he came under fire for a contract he negotiated that made a private company more than a million dollars for managing the district's business office.
Upon arrival, Shaw was pleasantly surprised by the dedication of Unified staff and the pockets of high-performing students around the district. He was less thrilled to find so many in the community held a negative view of the district and so many children had above-average needs, he said.
"I underestimated the needs of some of our children," Shaw said, talking about the most impoverished kids. "I knew they were there from looking at the data but when you hear the personal stories and meet some of the children and families it becomes evident that we have to be very supportive of our children in the schools."
That's why Shaw values the time he spent in Unified.
"I consider this the most important work that I have done in my 40 years," Shaw said. "It's the most important work because Racine is an urban school district. We have high-achieving kids, we have kids that are struggling, poverty, diversity and this was a chance for me to make a contribution."