Melissa Mathis, superintendent of Walker County Schools, will retire effective Dec. 1, though she's expected to maintain an advisory role at the school district.
Formerly the district's director of curriculum and instruction, Mathis is in her sixth year as superintendent. While no action has been taken yet, the school board is expected to appoint current Director of Personnel Craig Davoulas as interim superintendent. Davoulas also has served as a Walker County teacher, curriculum specialist and principal.
Mathis, 56, said stepping down was "a proactive measure to guard my health."
"The superintendency is an extraordinarily stressful job," she said. "When your doctor instructs, for your well being, to dial it back and reduce stress, you have to think seriously about your personal life and your work life. This is just one of the changes that I'm making."
While her announcement was abrupt, Mathis said she felt it was the right time to step down.
"Time catches up with everyone," she said. "And the smart person knows when it's time to dial it back. I feel like that time has come."
She said she's most proud of work on the county's graduation rate, which has increased about 20 percent in the last six years. At the same time, student poverty rates increased about 20 percent, she said.
"I feel like we have done some of the greatest work in the last few years with such extraordinary challenges," she said. "It's been an incredible journey. I love this system and love the work."
Mathis plans on staying on in a part-time advisory role, mentoring teachers and administrators.
School board Chairwoman Phyllis Hunter said the panel soon would begin a search for a new superintendent. She said Mathis will be sorely missed.
"It was a surprise to us," she said of this week's announcement. "She has basically turned the whole vision of Walker County education around. And it is in a very positive place right now."
Davoulas said he's learned much in his years working side by side with the superintendent.
"Extraordinary isn't a strong enough word for what she's accomplished here," he said.
He said he's honored that the board wants him to take the reins.
"Ms. Mathis has left the system on such a strong foundation," he said. "I would like to continue to build on the initiatives that she's set forth."