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Windsor superintendent Brandon Krueger to retire at end of school year

Public meetings on Windsor superintendent search

When: Thursday and Feb. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: Cali Calmecac Language Academy library, 9491 Starr Rd. (Thursday); Windsor Middle School library, 9500 Brooks Rd. (Feb. 27)

For more information, contact SCOE associate superintendent John Laughlin at 707-524-2677 or jlaughlin@scoe.org

Brandon Krueger has a journaling system he turns to whenever he has to make a major decision.

The Windsor Unified School District superintendent writes out his own version of pros and cons, and tries to wrap his head around the consequences of that choice.

Last year Krueger, 55, opened up his journals and began mulling over whether he should retire just months after receiving a contract extension through 2022.

Ultimately, looking at factors that include physical and mental health, Krueger decided to step down at the end of the school year after three years at the district’s helm. The announcement last month came as a surprise to many in Windsor who admired the relationships he had built as an administrator.

“Wellness and self-care, they screamed out as a priority for me,” Krueger said in an interview Friday. “I will never stop being involved with education. From the time I could talk and think, I wanted to be a teacher. This is a hard thing to leave.”

A Lodi native whose parents were both educators, Krueger came to Windsor during the 2015-16 school year as the district’s human resources director. It was the latest step in a 34-year career that included work as a teacher and administrator, most recently in Elk Grove.

Krueger was hired as superintendent in 2017 after a national search to select a successor to Steve Jorgensen, who also stepped down after a three-year stint. Krueger’s contract was extended twice by the school board after positive performance reviews

He final-year salary is $183,000 and he will be entitled to five years of medical benefits once he retires June 30.

As head of the Windsor school district, which serves over 5,100 students in eight schools, Krueger oversaw an annual budget of $46 million and about 600 employees.

He led an effort to acquire $200,000 in grant funding to maintain services for special-needs students in a six-district consortium when Sonoma County officials slashed funding to save money.

Communications systems were modernized under Krueger, easing exchanges between educators and families, said director of educational services Lisa Saxson. He also led a rebranding of Windsor campuses, with a new motto - “Strong schools, strong community” that ties civic wellbeing to education.

He led the school community through the 2017 firestorm when 89 families and 19 employees lost their homes, as well as the Kincade fire last fall when the town was evacuated, forgoing almost two weeks of classes, Krueger said.

A plan has since been adopted that will set aside optional days in the spring to make up for any time lost in the fall due to another wildfire or PG&E blackout, he said.

In addition, Saxson? commended Krueger’s leadership, which she said gave teachers a greater platform and led to collegial bargaining sessions during an era of heightened labor unease in public education.

“Through that model of loose, tight leadership, he also has a consistent eye on developing others,” said Saxson, who compared Kruger to iconic PBS personality Fred Rogers. “That’s critical in an organization like education.”

Windsor in 2018 was awarded $1.7 million in state grant funds to revamp its visual and performing arts programs.

The money, which had to be spent in roughly nine months, was used to buy class supplies and equipment, including nearly 500 iPads, and also to bolster teacher training to help integrate arts into English and foreign language classes.

Almost a third of the funds went toward extra pay for teachers.

Krueger oversaw several renovation projects after voters approved a $62 million bond in 2016. One of the remaining pieces is construction of a new school on a 12-acre parcel between Arata Lane and Sotoyome Creek, a joint effort with town officials that will pass onto the next superintendent.

Mattie Washburn Elementary Principal Julie Stearn, who worked closely with Krueger last year when the district reconfigured its primary schools as a cost-saving measure, said he “walked the walk” when it came to prioritizing the needs of students.

“Sometimes we as administrators, myself included, we get down on things (demanded of us) from the board or state,” Stearn said. “But Brandon truly kept that philosophy of kids first, what’s best for kids, as the priority. I’m devastated he’s leaving. Truly.”

His successor will face the type of budgetary woes common to districts throughout California due to declining enrollment - a crisis exacerbated by the housing shortage, growing cost of living, and lost instructional time due to disasters, Krueger said.

The school board is also exploring a parcel tax increase to fund additional district projects and programs.

“Figuring out ways to maintain things like our visual and performing arts strategic plan, our technology improvements and mental health services for our students,” Krueger said. “Those are three huge areas (the next superintendent) needs to be willing to commit to.”

The Windsor school board agreed to pay up $20,000 to the Sonoma County Office of Education to cover recruitment overseen by the associate superintendent, John Laughlin.

The school board will be receiving regular updates on the search over the next two months, with the first candidate interviews scheduled on April 4.

The board and a separate stakeholder group comprised of boosters, community leaders and partner organizations will sit down with each candidate, said Eric Heitz, president of the Windsor school board.

The board is expected to announce the new superintendent on April 21.

School officials are gathering input from the community and stakeholders at two public meetings this month. The first is Thursday night at the Cali Calmecac Language Academy.

“Anybody from the community can go to those meetings,” said Heitz. “It’s an opportunity to outreach and get feedback and help us define what we’re looking for.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

Public meetings on Windsor superintendent search

When: Thursday and Feb. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: Cali Calmecac Language Academy library, 9491 Starr Rd. (Thursday); Windsor Middle School library, 9500 Brooks Rd. (Feb. 27)

For more information, contact SCOE associate superintendent John Laughlin at 707-524-2677 or jlaughlin@scoe.org

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