Announcing his departure, Sacramento schools chief recalls highs and lows

Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said the toughest moment in his tenure at Sacramento City Unified came when he talked to the parents of a critically injured child in a Sacramento emergency room.

Raymond, 53, recalled the tragedy Thursday when he formally announced his decision to leave the district so he and his family could return to their home city of Boston.

At dusk on Jan. 19, 2012, Michelle Murigi was struck by a car that failed to stop at a crosswalk at Fruitridge Road and 58th Street a few blocks from West Campus High School. The 16-year-old West Campus High School student died the next day.

The death could have been avoided, Raymond said Thursday at district headquarters. In September, the city and district announced a plan to install a stoplight this year.

The second toughest moment – for the district as a whole – said Raymond, was the decision to close seven elementary schools because of declining enrollment. Parents and students who lost their schools were frustrated and angry with the process and worried about having to travel farther to their new schools. Some families filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit to block the closures, alleging that the district had targeted low-income, minority students who lacked the political power of more affluent residents.

The community group Hmong Innovating Politics, which opposed the closures, issued a statement Thursday generally crediting Raymond with helping a handful of schools “that had been historically disenfranchised and starved of essential resources.” HIP was referring to his Priority Schools program, which directed more money to low-performing campuses and protected their teachers from layoffs regardless of seniority.

But the group criticized Raymond for planning to leave before students displaced by closed schools have adjusted to their new situation.

“Mr. Raymond repeatedly promised displaced students, parents and families that they would have his unwavering support and attention during this very tumultuous time,” the group said in a prepared statement. “His abrupt departure in the midst of the transition process is a reversal of that commitment.”

Raymond’s remarks Thursday were part farewell, part thanks to board members and supporters and part pride in district improvements since he arrived in Sacramento in July 2009. A former nonprofit executive and attorney, Raymond came to Sacramento after graduating from a program that trains business leaders to run school districts and serving as chief accountability officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system in North Carolina.

Raymond leaves a post that pays $245,000 a year. He said he expects to find opportunities in the education arena in Boston.

“I came with hope and energy and enthusiasm. And I still have that,” he said. “The children of Sacramento are better off than they were 41/2 years ago.”

He highlighted advancements such as California’s first-ever Hmong immersion program at Susan B. Anthony Elementary School in Meadowview; a career-focused Link Learning Pathways program at high schools; and Waldorf-inspired art and music programs at three schools.

Raymond said the decision to leave came after weeks of discussion with family members. He will leave his post at the end of December.

He talked about the need to spend time with family. He told the story of another superintendent who said to him, with tears in his eyes, “It’s hard when you miss some really important life moments.”

Raymond’s children are 12, 10 and 6.

Still, Raymond said, he awoke each day happy to go to work.

“It seems like I was just here in this room with a hello to Sacramento,” Raymond said. “And now, in a very short period, it’s time to say goodbye.”

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