School Superintendent Susan Andrews stunned members of the Muscogee County School Board Monday night when she told them she will retire this summer.
Board chair Cathy Williams began a work session at the Muscogee County Public Education Center with the official announcement.
Andrews, 57, said her last day will be July 31. At that time, she will have been in the job for three and a half years.
“People have told me that when it was time to go I would know it,” Andrews said. “I feel this is the time. I have a 6-month-old grandbaby who lives in Tempe, Arizona, and I want to be able to see him whenever I choose. After 35 years of service, I am ready to relax and think about something other than school.”
Before coming to Columbus in February 2009, Andrews was superintendent of the Harris County School District for nine years. She was named Georgia Superintendent of the Year and one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year in 2007.
The Harris County district has about 5,000 students, while Muscogee County has 32,000 students.
Of her latest job, Andrews said, “It will consume you.”
Muscogee County’s first female superintendent, Andrews was instrumental in helping the district pass a $223 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for a variety of projects including five new schools -- a new Carver High, a new middle school, two new elementary schools and a fine arts academy.
She’s also watched the district lose millions of dollars in funding due to state budget cuts, forcing employees to take furloughs.
“Passing the SPLOST has certainly been the high point since I’ve been here,” she said. “That support from the community has allowed us to so do much good for the children. I appreciate that support.”
She said that despite recent disappointing scores for Adequate Yearly Progress, the children of Muscogee County are getting a good education here. “We continue to do well,” she said.
She said that AYP has been shown to be an “arbitrary standard.”
“I am just shocked,” board member Mark Cantrell said. “I hate to see her go. She invested a lot of time in training me. She has done an excellent job and everyone owes her a great debt of gratitude.”
Cathy Williams said that Andrews’ new grandson is a “great impetus for leaving.”
“She has done an amazing job,” Williams said. “She has seen us through the worst economic recession of our time without mass layoffs. She has done an incredible job of increasing diversity among principals and assistant principals.”
John Wells, a 26-year board member, said Andrews’ decision caught him off guard. “It was a surprise for me, I didn’t know about it in advance,” said Wells, adding that he didn’t like surprises. “This is the most unusual retirement we’ve had among superintendents.”
Wells said Andrews had done a great job leading the district and that he thought the district’s new superintendent should be “more of a business professional, rather than a government official.” He said the board would have to meet to determine the next step in the search process.
Board member Naomi Buckner said she was disappointed to see Andrews go, and that she was especially impressed by Andrews’ accessibility.
“She emails people back. She calls parents and email parents,” she said. “You don’t usually get that in a district this large.”
She added that the district had also made improvements academically since Andrews took the job.
“She not only understands children, but she knows the law,” said board member Beth Harris. She said Andrews was a “good teacher” when she and Cantrell came to the board as new members in 2011, and that she has worked to improve communication and cohesion between members.
Harris said she thought a new superintendent should have similar qualities, as well as great leadership skills.
Buckner said she thought a new superintendent should have practical experience leading a large school district.