Six years into his tenure as Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent, Daniel Domenech has decided he has had enough.
Citing personal and professional reasons, Domenech announced his retirement from public education Wednesday afternoon and instead will enter the private sector.
"All of my family is in New York. I have two aging parents with failing health that have become dependent on me," Domenech said. "I have six grandchildren in the New York area growing up without grandpa."
Domenech's retirement is effective March 5. He has accepted the position of senior vice president of urban markets for McGraw-Hill Education, a textbook and educational materials company, in New York.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT came as a surprise to many who said the superintendent had given no indication he was thinking of leaving.
"I'm still in shock," said Isis Castro (Mount Vernon), chairman of the county School Board. "He told me yesterday morning after the legislative breakfast then he called School Board members."
Board member Kathy Smith (Sully) found out Wednesday morning when she came to the School Board office. The 12-member board, which, as a result of the November election will have six new members, will now have to replace Domenech while also looking to find a permanent replacement for Nancy Sprague, the chief academic officer, who died suddenly on Halloween.
"I'm surprised," Smith said. "I think it's a challenge we're up to.
Dan is absolutely right. He left us in a good position. High-caliber people would be interested in this job."
DOMENECH SAID he had decided he wanted to go back to New York earlier, but wanted to wait until after the elections to make his announcement. He said the time was right, given the fact the county government is in transition, what with the change of leadership on the Board of Supervisors and half of the School Board being replaced.
"There is never a good time to leave. If you take a snapshot of the school system each day, there is never a good time. This gives the School Board the opportunity to select a leader for the beginning of the school year," Domenech said. "The board had done everything it could to keep me here. This is not a negotiation ploy. It's a matter of going home to family."
"I think this is more than a 24-hour job," Smith said. "You just get to a point in life and start to say my family is important to me."
THE SUPERINTENDENT said when he first came to Fairfax County in 1998, there were many challenges, namely the growing population of limited-English-proficient students and the increasing number of students enrolled in the free- and reduced-price lunch program. Even so, he and his staff, were faced with maintaining the high-level of achievement county residents expected.
"Basically, when I came here, they said this is an excellent school system, so don't screw it up," Domenech said.
He credits his dedicated staff with the school system's ability to adapt to the changing demographic without compromising quality education.
"Over the last six years, I have been very, very pleased with the staff I helped bring on board," he said. "I was able to shape the school system because I hired just about all the principals and the leadership team."
"It is a distressingly sad time for Fairfax County, but I'm very happy for his family," Castro said.