|Messenger photo by John Matuszak
|Reynoldsburg Schools Superintendent Richard Ross
After almost 20 years at the helm of the Reynoldsburg school district, Superintendent Richard Ross is ready to sail into the sunset – literally.
Ross, hired in 1988 and now the longest-serving superintendent in Franklin County, officially announced his plans to retire at the end of December at the Sept. 18 school board meeting.
He has worked in education for 35 years and is ready for a break, Ross explained.
His immediate plans include visiting Machu Pichu in Peru and sailing around the Galapagos Islands with his son, a Reynoldsburg High School graduate and now an Ohio State University senior. After that, he might look into working in another area of education.
Ross, 57, who moved to Reynoldsburg at age 3 and also graduated from the district, described his feelings as "bittersweet," similar to students excited about new opportunities in college but fondly looking back as well.
The announcement prompted an emotional outpouring of praise from colleagues, board members and parents.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Dackin, who had previously served as high school principal, choked up as he called Ross "a mentor and a friend."
Aron Ross, who worked as assistant superintendent for 18 years before taking a job with the state, said that his former boss is known as one of the best superintendents in Ohio as well as in the country.
During Ross’s tenure, Reynoldsburg has been recognized for its innovations, speakers pointed out.
Board member Mary Hudson said she first met Ross in 1989 when he asked her to co-chair a campaign to pass a school income tax, one of the first in the state.
This year, with Ross’s backing, Reynoldsburg became the first public district in Franklin County to require uniform school wear.
Under his leadership, the rapidly growing district has built four new schools and renovated other buildings. Plans for a second high school and an additional elementary school are on the drawing board.
National Public Radio profiled the district for closing the achievement gap for minority students. Numerous programs for students who do not thrive in a traditional classroom have been launched.
Parent Lejeune Reynolds said she transferred her son from a private school to Reynoldsburg High because of the excellence achieved by Ross and his staff, and is doing the same for her granddaughter.
Ross has been willing to take fire for decisions he believes are right, commented Buildings Director and former school board member Ron Strussion.
"If you’re in a fox hole, you want this man with you," Strussion said.
He recalled that when the board hired Ross, they hoped to keep him around for five or six years, the average term for an Ohio superintendent.
Ross began his career with the Reynoldsburg schools as a student teacher at Hannah Ashton School. He joined the Jonathan Alder district, in Madison County, as a teacher and principal, before taking superintendent positions in Ottawa and Bryan, Ohio.
While described by several people as warm and friendly, as a boss he is no push-over, board President Cheryl Max said.
When she welcomes new teachers, she tells them "this is not an easy place to work" because the superintendent expects nothing less than the best for its students.
That commitment has been reflected in the district’s rating on the state report card. After a slow start, the schools rose to "excellent" status.
On the latest report card, Reynoldsburg dipped slightly to "effective" status, a position Ross expects the district to improve.
He also experienced a recent disappointment when voters in 2006 turned down a $53 million bond issue for the second high school and elementary school.
But Ross is still charging ahead, recommending that the issue be revisited on the spring, 2008, ballot. The request will be buoyed by a guarantee of $60 million in state funding if the local issues passes.
Max added that Ross has forged working relationships with City Council, the mayor’s office and the police department, and his efforts have benefited the entire community.
Ross believes he is the one who has been enriched the most.
"I’ve gotten more from this community than I’ve given," he said.