"After much deliberation and extended discussions with family, my husband and I have decided to relocate to North Carolina," Kolek wrote, "and, as a consequence, after 38 years as a CT public educator, with the last 10 spent in the proud service of the New Canaan community, first as deputy superintendent and currently as superintendent, I plan to retire effective June 30, 2014."
Kolek, who previously served as the deputy superintendent in 2004, replaced Superintendent David Abbey in July 2012. Her $248,700 salary in 2013 made her the highest-paid employee in town.
Kolek said her husband, who's been retired for two years, has been trying to convince her to do the same for a while.
"I've been thinking about it since the beginning of the year, but I really didn't make up my mind until recently," Kolek said Tuesday night. "I love this community. It was a hard decision. So it took a while, quite frankly, for him to convince me."
Board of Education Chairman Hazel Hobbs said she was grateful for Kolek's decade of work in New Canaan.
"On behalf of the board, I want to thank Mary Kolek for her 10 years leading the district's efforts to create a 21st century educational program that prepares our students to be scholars, leaders and global citizens," Hobbs said in a statement. "While she was superintendent and deputy superintendent here, New Canaan has been fortunate to have had Dr. Kolek's keen intellect, high energy level, strong commitment and deep knowledge of the field of education."
In the letter she submitted to the Board of Education, Kolek said the decision to retire was not an easy one.
"As you might imagine, the decision to transition from a career and community that I love and to which I am deeply committed has been difficult," Kolek wrote. "The privilege of leading this district will no doubt stand throughout my life as the pinnacle of my career."
Before coming to New Canaan, she was the principal of Weston High School from 1998 to 2004 and of Lyman Memorial High in Lebanon from 1994 to 1998. She received her doctorate from the University of Connecticut in educational leadership.
During her time in New Canaan, Kolek led various initiatives through the school system, including all-day kindergarten, Chinese language study, expansion of the visual and performing arts and Foreign Language in Elementary Schools.
"She has been a leader, visionary, motivator and accomplished professional," Hobbs said. "Most importantly, children were central to everything she has done as an educator."
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said Kolek called him Tuesday morning to announce the decision.
"I was quite surprised by her decision and selfishly expressed my personal sadness about her leaving," Mallozzi said in a statement. "I also conveyed the magnitude her absence would bring to our community. Mary has had such a positive and lasting impact on our schools, children, teachers and the entire town over these past 10 years; it's hard to imagine her not being central to the further success and achievements of our schools. I have worked closely with Mary over the past three years and will truly miss this special person."
Hobbs said the board will meet Monday, March 17, to discuss the process to find a new superintendent. She said the board would form a search committee and it might consider hiring a search firm to assist with the transition.
"We'll develop a list of personal and professional criteria, look at resumes and then make a selection, which could be for an interim or a permanent superintendent," Hobbs said.
Mallozzi said he would be glad to see a replacement come from within the system.
"I am comforted to know that our Board of Education has seen fit to promote from within the district and believe we have talented educators in place that merit serious consideration for succession," he wrote. "This is just another legacy Dr. Kolek will leave us with."
Kolek said she would also like to see current administrator apply for the position.
"We spend a lot of time developing leaders in this community and I certainly would encourage administrators that are in this community that might be interested. If that happens, that would be great," she said.
Without going into specifics, Kolek said the job of superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools can be challenging.
"When you're working from a level of excellence, developing the rationale and the reason to grow and change, it can be a challenge," Kolek said. "You're looking to see how can you continually improve and really find motivation to improve and find areas where there's room for innovation. I think that's challenging."
"I was very disappointed to hear that she's leaving," he said. "She's got a lot of experience. And I know she loves the school system here and I know the Board of Education really respects her."
Board of Education member Penny Rashen agreed.
"Kolek has been an amazing educator and has done terrific things for this district," Rashin said. "She has taken the district to a whole new level. She has contributed tremendously."
Kolek said it has been a privilege to lead a district she calls "a model for what public education can and should be."
"There has not been a day when I have failed to reflect on the how fortunate we are as a school community to be able to offer our students a high quality education and expansive opportunities to explore, learn, serve, connect and lead," she wrote in her letter.
Hobbs said Kolek's departure is a loss to the community.
"We will miss her, but wish her all the best in her retirement," Hobbs said.
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