After seven years at the helm of Thurston County’s largest school district, North Thurston Public Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas plans to retire in June.
Manhas announced his decision during the North Thurston School Board meeting at South Sound High School on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, Manhas shared the news in a letter to school district staff.
“I have worked in the private, public and nonprofit sectors since I came to the United States in the 1970s, but working for North Thurston Public Schools has truly been a unique gift I will never forget,” Manhas, 67, wrote. “My time here has been immensely rewarding and it is the perfect place to end my professional career to spend more time with family and explore some personal interests like gardening, traveling, reading and volunteering.”
“We have been truly blessed to have Raj as our superintendent,” School Board president Aaron Owada said. “He has won a lot of respect for our district during his tenure.”
Manhas, who describes himself as “a farm boy from a small village in India,” moved to Seattle in 1973 to pursue a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Washington. He was director of operations for Seattle Public Utilities, and then chief operations officer and superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Manhas was the executive director of the “Seeds of Compassion” gathering with the Dalai Lama in Seattle in 2008.
Under his watch, North Thurston has passed two levies and a $175 million construction bond. In addition, the district’s ending fund balance has grown from $3.2 million in 2008 to nearly $16.5 million, according to a financial report shared during Tuesday’s board meeting.
“We’re financially stable — that’s huge,” said Vicky Lamoreaux, North Thurston’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
She said Manhas has pushed to make sure the district’s resources are equitable among its schools.
Manhas said student achievement and graduation rates have increased under his watch.
“Our people have done an amazing job,” he said.
Manhas has served on the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, and is a member of Lacey Rotary and the Lacey South Sound Chamber. He also serves on the Community Ministry Board for Providence St. Peter Hospital.
“It has been an amazing journey for me personally. And working with our board, our community, our students, staff, we have done some really good work for our students and the future of those students,” Manhas said. “… I happened to be at the right time in the right place. This job, this position, has been a special gift to me as I’m nearing the end of my professional career. ”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board voted to hire educational consultants Michael Boring and Bill Bleakney to lead the search for its next leader. The goal is to hire a new superintendent in the spring, officials say.
In April 2014, the School Board approved a three-year contract extension for Manhas that included an annual salary of $185,668, and total compensation of $234,745 a year, which includes an annuity and allowance for in-district travel. His contract was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2017, so it will end a year early.
As a boss, Manhas has been fair and driven, Lamoreaux said.
“He has that laser-like focus and he has the ability to get the best out of people,” she said. “You clearly know what his expectations are.”
Next summer, Manhas and his wife, Rana, plan to move back to Seattle, where their two adult children live.
Until then, Manhas told the School Board “there’s a lot of work still to do, and we will continue to do that.”
“I’m sure that everyone in the room who knows Raj knows he will work until his last day,” School Board member Marcia Coppin said.