DANVILLE — School board members will have to look for a new leader a little earlier than they had hoped they would.
Superintendent Mark Denman announced this month that he plans to step down on June 30, 2014.
School board members were somewhat surprised when they received the school chief's letter of resignation, board President Bill Dobbles recalled Wednesday.
"We always knew it was a possibility," he said, adding Denman — who has worked for the district since 1975 — is certainly eligible. "Of course, we hoped he would stay forever.
"We're very happy for him — and sad for the district," Dobbles continued. "He does such a great job, and our immediate reaction is things will just fall apart when he leaves. He's going to be very, very difficult to replace. But we understand and congratulate him, and we will go on."
A Danville native, Denman graduated from Danville High School in 1971. He had been accepted to law school at the University of Illinois, but instead chose to follow his parents into education.
He began teaching at East Park in January 1975 when it was still a junior high school. Starting in 1983, he served as principal of Daniel Elementary, East Park Elementary, North Ridge Middle School and Danville High School. In 2004, he was appointed associate superintendent.
He took over as the district's chief in 2009.
Denman said his decision to retire in two years came after much consideration. When he leaves, he will have worked for the district for nearly 40 years, but his association with it goes back much further.
"The district has been a very important part of my life since I was 6 years old," he said. He also pointed out that his parents and aunt and uncle had long careers with Danville schools.
"I'm very appreciative of the many opportunities afforded to me over the years by the district," Denman said. "My life has been enriched many times over by my relationships with students, staff, parents and board members. It's truly been a privilege to be an employee."
Denman said while he enjoys traveling and hopes to do more of it in the future, he has no immediate plans for retirement.
But in the meantime, he said, he still has a lot of work to do. That includes finding replacements for Associate Superintendent Dianna Kirk, Human Resources Director Kathy Houpt, Education Supports Programming Director Diane Hampel, High School Principal Mark Neil and Northeast Elementary Magnet School Principal Cheryl McIntire, all of whom are retiring in June 2013.
"It's going to be very difficult for us with so many people leaving key posts. We'll also be recruiting for the large number of other retirements we'll have next year," Denman said, adding 40-some certified staffers have already submitted letters of resignation. "We want the very best people to fill those roles."
Denman will continue overseeing the efforts to implement standards-based instruction and assessments to improve student achievement; the renovations at North Ridge, still in progress, and East Park, which will get underway soon, as well as other health life safety improvements throughout the district's facilities; getting the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, the district's alternative education program, moved into its new building; and improving parent involvement throughout the schools, among other things.
Dobbles said the board hasn't begun discussing replacing the administrators who are leaving at the end of the upcoming school year yet.
"Clearly, we have to begin making plans immediately," he said, adding more administrative posts may need to be filled, if current staff are selected to fill those positions.
"Of all of the positions, the superintendent is clearly the most important," Dobbles said, adding the board likely won't begin a search for a year. He said the board could do anything from a local search to a national one. "We haven't even discussed it yet, but there's a lot of different ways to do it."