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Leedom says she is planning to retire after school year

WILLMAR -- Willmar Schools Superintendent Kathy Leedom plans to retire after this school year.

Leedom said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that the decision came about from a realization that she was eligible for retirement and an examination of her personal priorities.

"I absolutely love my work," she said. "I just count it a privilege every day to be serving in this capacity."

Last weekend, as she prepared a Christmas message for the school staff, she said, she thought about the school year's theme of partners in learning. That led her to think about the needs of "my partner in life's journey," her husband Jack.

"He has some health care needs that require more of my attention," she said, so she reached a final decision about what she called "the next chapter" in life.

"Over time, Jack has been my biggest supporter regarding career decisions," she said, and he supports her decision to retire, too. In August, the Leedoms will be moving to Nevada to live near family.

In an e-mail to the school district staff on Tuesday, Leedom wrote, "My emotions are mixed because after 33 years in education it seems impossible that I will be leaving this wonderful profession serving the Willmar Public Schools.

On the other hand, I guess we ultimately work hard hoping that leads to a time when our days are less full, we get plenty of sleep, and we can make a positive difference in a way that may not be related to a career."

School Board Chairman Mike Carlson said he was a bit surprised when Leedom told him she would be retiring, but the School Board has wondered at times how long she would stay.

"We have been in fear every year we would lose her to another district," he said. When board members go to meetings, people from other schools often praise Leedom and the school district, he added.

Carlson said he has appreciated Leedom's leadership qualities and her focus on students. "I don't know if people really understand or appreciate how much she puts into the district," he said. "Children were her first priority; she would travel to a state tournament to watch four or five kids at a swim meet."

Leedom will be difficult to replace, he said, but he feels she leaves the district in a good position to be able to move forward after she leaves.

The board has not met yet to discuss its search for Leedom's successor. The next meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

Carlson said he felt the board would make a careful decision and look for a "person with the gifts we need."

Leedom came to the district as assistant superintendent in July 1994. She was named superintendent in August 2000 and is currently serving the second year of a three-year contract.