Deborah Bettencourt, the Folsom Cordova Unified School District superintendent who sought to tackle difficult community issues in a public, proactive fashion, announced Wednesday that she is retiring at the end of June.
Bettencourt, 60, made the announcement early Wednesday in a letter to nearly 2,000 employees. Her departure will cap seven years as head of the 20,000-student district, and a 42-year career in education.
Zak Ford, president of the district’s school board, lauded Bettencourt for exemplary leadership and commitment to the district’s success.
In a prepared statement, he said he was “saddened to see her leave.”
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District trustees are to meet Saturday to interview prospective firms to aid in the search for a new superintendent, with a goal of naming Bettencourt’s replacement by the end of the year. Once a firm is chosen, the district will seek public feedback on desired qualities of the next district leader, officials said.
Bettencourt’s career in education started in the Tracy Unified School District, where she worked as a part-time teacher and as director of fiscal services.
She served as assistant superintendent in Roseville City Schools for a decade, and while there won the appreciation of developers for her proactive work on getting new schools funded. As a result, developers named a street after her: Bettencourt Drive.
She joined the Folsom Cordova district in 1997, serving as chief financial officer and deputy superintendent before being named district superintendent in 2010.
It was in that capacity that she established a style of proactive and public leadership responding to districtwide issues, most notably after the tragic suicide death of 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu in December 2014, following what his attorneys said was pervasive bullying. His death garnered national attention and triggered a full-scale district anti-bullying campaign to inspire students, teachers and administrators to work on preventing future bullying.
The district created a 100-person special anti-bullying task force and identified areas needed for improvement. A spokesman for the district, Dan Thigpen, said the effort sought “to inform whether we need to do a better job in how we respond to complaints of bullying. Our intent is to learn from that review, and make sure we prevent a future tragedy.”
The parents settled with the district in 2015 for $1 million.
Bettencourt said in an interview that some difficult episodes of leadership occurred when students or staff members died, periods she described as tough emotionally and requiring “a great deal of fortitude.” She also cited recessionary years that brought cuts in student services and staffing.
The cuts were “not the fault of the adults or students involved,” she said. “But it still hurt. I gave out 70 pink slips one year.”
Bettencourt said she went to every classroom and personally handed out the pink slips. “It was hard,” she said. “But it was the right thing to do. Thank God we were able to bring many of them back over the years.”
In her letter to district employees, Bettencourt lauded Folsom Cordova stakeholders, community members, board members and staff members.
“It is never about one person at the helm,” she wrote.