Longtime East County educator Theresa Kemper announced Thursday that she’ll step down in June as superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District after less than two years on the job but 33 in the district.
In a video posted on YouTube, Kemper said her “ideologically diverse” board would launch a national search for her successor.
Alluding to the pandemic and other challenges, she said: “I will treasure this fulfilling journey and I will reflect often, especially when the events of the world around us cause the hope in my own heart to flicker.”
Kemper, who turns 65 next month, was principal at Grossmont High School for nine nears, beginning in 2002, and then assistant superintendent for educational services in the district an additional nine years until June 2020.
The La Mesa resident, whose three sons attended Helix Charter High School, was paid $266,262 a year.
Governing Board President Rob Shield told City News Service that Kemper was “the obvious choice to see our district through its most challenging period,” steering its 17 schools, 3,000 employees and more than 17,000 students through the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a phone interview Friday, Kemper said she originally had planned to retire a year earlier.
But the school board, which knew of her latest decision in December, asked if she would stay another year “to see us through … this pandemic.”
“It just felt right,” she said of that delay. “Now it’s time.”
Kemper earned a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature in 1988 from CSU Stanislaus, a master’s degree in the same from San Diego State in 1995 and an education specialist degree from Point Loma Nazarene University in 1998.
Her first district job was teaching English and journalism at El Cajon Valley High School in 1989.
In her farewell video, Kemper said: “I have been fortunate to serve … under the leadership of a board that is ideologically diverse yet unified in their commitment to doing what’s in the best interest of our parents and families above all else.”
On Friday, she said he never felt squeezed by the three-Republican, two-Democrat board.
“Not at all,” she said. “And that’s one thing I really love about this board. … They intentionally keep the focus on kids, families and our community and on taking care of our staff. They don’t get embroiled at all on political issues or politicizing issues.”
She said the board has a goal of choosing a new leader of the sprawling district by May, and would consult the community on “who you’d like to see in this office.”
“Between now and June 30, which I expect to be my last day, I will start each day with the goal of making this district stronger than it was the day before,” Kemper said in the video. “I will not rest. You and your community deserve nothing less.”
The school board Thursday hired executive search firm Leadership Associates of Santa Barbara to find Kemper’s successor.
She singled out former colleague Dan Barnes for praise, noting how he stuck with the district after the 2001 Granite Hills High School shooting and later became principal at Grossmont High School.
“Dan is a fantastic school principal, and I think he’s very capable of doing any of the leadership roles in the district,” she told Times of San Diego. “It would be nice to see some district staff step up and apply for the [superintendent] position.”
Kemper joins her husband, Jeff — a former teacher and assistant principal — in retirement. She says she plans to visit her 90-year-old mother in San Jose more often and also her five grandchildren.
“My retired friends say every day’s a Saturday,” she said. “Sounds pretty good right now.”
She also plans to do more gardening.
“It’s something I’ve never had time for,” she said. “I’m looking forward to get my hands on some dirt — and growing things.”
Updated at 2:27 p.m. Jan. 21, 2020