Beaufort County School District superintendent Valerie Truesdale will retire by this time next year.
The surprise decision was announced Friday during a Board of Education work session. Truesdale, who was hired in 2007, said she had made the decision after conversations with her family in recentmonths. Her husband recently retired, and her three children and her grandchildren don't live in the area.
"My kids were on my case," she said. "They said, 'Mom, you're never here.' "
She also said a overhaul of the state's retirement system made it more advantageous for her to retire sooner rather than later.
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Truesdale has not put a date on her retirement, but said it would be within the next 12 months.
"I wanted to give (the board) a lot of notice and time to think ahead," she said.
School board chairman Fred Washington Jr. said Truesdale's announcement was "emotional."
"It's unexpected," he said. "We've been working so intensely together for a period of time ... it throws you for a bit of a loop."
Truesdale said she reached many of the goals she set when she arrived at the district.
Student achievement and stanardized test scores have improved. So have the district's state report-card grades -- no schools were rated as "at-risk" in 2011, and most of the district's schools were "average" or above. In 2008, the only just over half the schools earned that rating.
"That's clear data of how things have changed under her leadership," Technical College of the Lowcountry president Tom Leitzel said. Leitzel and Truesdale have worked together to establish the early college program at Whale Branch Early College High School and other projects. Leitzel called her retirement a "loss for the community and for the school district."
Truesdale said she's proud of helping to establish a culture of respect and responsibility in the district. Coosa Elementary principal Carmen Dillard agreed.
"She's been wonderful at talking to us and having us all pull together and work for a common cause," Dillard said.
Washington and some district staff said they hope the next superintendent will keep the momentum rolling.
"I'd like to see another change agent," Hilton Head Island High principal Amanda O'Nan said. "Someone who continues to move us forward academically and put students first."
Truesdale's tenure has not been free of controversy. She presided over the opening of Whale Branch High and other Whale Branch area schools -- construction of which was approved before her arrival -- which some community members opposed. The district closed Shell Point Elementary this year, and almost 200 staff positions have been cut during her time as superintendent.
The board has not set a deadline for hiring Truesdale's replacement, Washington said, but a clearer timeline likely will be established in the next week or so.
Truesdale said she's looking forward to slowing down. She's owned property in Beaufort County for at least 20 years, and she used to travel once a month to watch sunrises on the beach, she said. Since she's become superintendent, she's seen perhaps five sunrises in five years, she said.
"I moved here to enjoy the Lowcountry," she said. "I enjoy my work, that's why I put in the hours I do, but you get to a point where you have to stop putting in those hours."