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Former superintendent calls former job “the best years of my life”

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
September 1, 2005

Former Redwood City School District Superintendent Ron Crates says he’s not bitter about the circumstances that led to his abrupt resignation at the end of July.

He characterized his decision to leave after 15 years as a mutual one between himself and the district board.

“Sometimes you agree things aren’t working out and that it’s best to part company,” Crates said. “We wanted to be courteous and do things in a positive way.”

On July 29, Crates announced he was resigning to pursue other interests. Within days, he was being courted by three other districts, and he chose an interim post heading the Hollister School District — the only one close enough that he could commute from his home in Redwood City.

Speaking through tears, he called his time in the Redwood City School District “the best 15 years of my life.”

Crates, 58, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and worked his way up the educational ladder — and across the country. Before taking the superintendent’s seat in Redwood City in 1990, he worked in schools in Arizona and Chicago.

His first year at the Redwood City School District, Crates and the school board created the blueprints for the district’s schools-of-choice program, which to this day allows open enrollment in six of its schools.

Open enrollment has been so popular, some schools experienced overcrowding during Crates’ tenure. At Clifford School, the district responded to a burgeoning student population by creating informal school boundaries.

At Roy Cloud, which first faced overcrowding this year, officials accommodated extra students by borrowing space from an onsite after-school center, but not before Crates mistakenly informed some parents that their kids were being ousted.

“That was a miscommunication wipeout,” Crates said. “I was going on vacation, and no one was around — but it was something that should have never taken place.”

Crates and the school board also made Redwood City one of the first districts in the nation to establish ways to standardize and measure student achievement. Redwood City’s student-assessment model was later adopted in Maryland and Virginia, Crates said.

Some of the district’s proudest accomplishments were to raise teacher’s salaries and to launch a program that signed kids up for health care when they applied for the school lunch program. They also worked to be inclusive when it came to the students’ varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, he said.

Crates joined the Hollister School District Aug. 15. Not two weeks later, representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens condemned him, saying he had a history of “arrogant treat of Hispanic parents and teachers in Redwood City.”

“I’m speculating that it came from a couple of personnel issues about five years ago,” Crates said, declining to discuss the matter further. “It was shocking that it did come up — and unjustified.”

In recent years, Redwood City School District has faced mounting budget shortfalls, enough to get a parcel tax on the May ballot intended to raise $3.3 million for the 2005-06 school year. It failed, prompting the board to take $2.5 million out of district reserves to keep smaller class sizes and save the jobs of nearly 60 teachers.

Crates said the decision to tap reserves was prudent, despite criticisms that it leaves the district with very little reserves and may harm the schools’ chances of raising money through parcel taxes in the near future.

Whether another campaign will be successful “depends on how it’s dealt with and how it’s communicated to the public,” he said.

Don Gielow was appointed as Redwood City School District’s interim superintendent as the board begins the process of finding a permanent replacement. Crates expressed faith that the community he helped foster will continue in his absence.

“I hope, and know, the community will support the board to help the kids and families in the district,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

September 1, 2005 at 9:27 PM

Posted in Education, Redwood City

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