What was supposed to be a six-month interim job has lasted more than eight years, but the Lodi School District’s top administrator finally decided it’s time to retire — again.
“I just think it’s the right time for this district and for me to step away,” Charles Pursell said.
The 76-year-old, whose retirement will be considered by the school board Monday, plans to stay in his position through the coming school year. He plans for his last day to be June 30.
Pursell has been Lodi’s district administrator twice during his almost 30 years working for the district. His first stint started in 1991 and ended when he “retired” in 2001.
In January 2011, the school board asked him to return temporarily, “but then we got involved with the referendum and we started looking at facilities, and it just kind of became a longer stint than what I was originally thinking it was going to be,” Pursell said.
Lodi Board of Education President Susan Miller wrote in an email that Pursell dedicated himself to the district over the last eight years, playing an integral role through issues such as the 2011 enactment of Act 10, which mostly ended teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and the budget process amid difficult financial realities.
“I have been very pleased with Mr. Pursell’s leadership and guidance to the District for all of those years,” Miller wrote.
While Pursell shies away from taking sole credit for anything, he said he is proud of improvements the district has made to its curriculum under his leadership.
“Being a teacher and a curriculum director, as well as the district administrator, we all know that it’s not just what you teach but how you teach it. And so we put a lot of time and effort into those two factors,” Pursell said.
He noted the district also has focused on helping its staff grow professionally, which is another accomplishment about which he feels particularly good.
Most visible to the public, however, are the new Lodi Primary School on Sauk Street that opened last fall and other remodeling projects across the district that were completed last summer.
Voters approved the $22 million facility referendum in 2016, along with a $1.7 million per year operational referendum for five years. Pursell said he wanted to see through the projects he started, all of which will wrap up around April.
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“We have some excellent facilities, and certainly the community can be proud of that,” Pursell said. “Those buildings are going to serve the district for a long, long time.”
He also timed his farewell to come with two years remaining on the operational referendum to give his replacement time to get acquainted with the district’s finances and the school board before having to look at passing another referendum, he said.
Pursell submitted his retirement request a full school year in advance to give the board time to find a new leader, noting he didn’t want members to “feel rushed.”
The school board will consider whether to hire a consultant for the search at Monday’s meeting.
A timeline will depend on “several factors that will be part of the normal search process,” Miller wrote, “but the goal will be to move forward as expeditiously as possible in making this important decision for our district, our staff and our community.”
By June, Pursell will have spent more than 29 years with the district. In addition to his administrative work, he said he taught English and social studies at the middle and high school levels, coached football, track and wrestling, drove buses and did summer painting and construction work.
After retirement, he’s planning an extended summer vacation to travel. He and his wife may spend more time visiting their children and grandchildren, Pursell said.
“I tried to plan the last time and it never worked out,” he said, laughing.
He also offered to help the new superintendent get oriented.
“I’ve never really looked at this as a job. It’s really just something that I enjoy doing — watching teachers teach, watching kids learn and grow up,” Pursell said, noting that one of the benefits of being an educator for so long is seeing former students become community leaders and contributing members of society.
“It’s very gratifying, I think, for any teacher to look at some of the kids that have come through our district and what they’ve accomplished in the real world of adulthood. That’s always been a pleasure to me.”