After 16 years supporting San Luis Obispo County’s school districts and advocating for public education, county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker announced Tuesday that he will retire when his term ends next January.
Crocker also threw his support behind Jim Brescia, superintendent of the Cayucos Elementary School District, who intends to seek the position in the June primary election.
Crocker said he asked Brescia to consider running for the job because of his experience as a district superintendent. Brescia could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Crocker, 72, said that he feels now is a good time to transition to new leadership because of positive advances by the state in funding and accountability measures.
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“I feel very good about the structure of the county office in terms of staying focused on helping our school districts,” he said. “We really see the districts as our customers.”
The county Office of Education provides outreach and resources to the county’s 10 public school districts, which together serve about 34,600 students.
The office also oversees special student populations, including community schools and other alternatives for expelled students; special education services; the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School; and several preschools.
Crocker began his career in education in California in 1972, serving in leadership roles including as a superintendent in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
He worked as superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District for nine years before he was elected as county schools superintendent in 1998.
He was subsequently re-elected to three successive four-year terms. His salary was $177,858 in 2013, according to data provided to the state Department of Education and compiled by The Sacramento Bee.
Crocker said the most rewarding part of his role has been the ability to look at educational issues such as student achievement and closing the achievement gap from a countywide perspective.
The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic achievements between the average student and those who are economically disadvantaged or whose native language is not English.
Data show that students who are English learners and those living in poverty are 15 to 40 percentage points lower in academic achievement than their peers, according to the county’s annual education report.
Mark Buchman, a trustee with San Luis Coastal School District, said Crocker was instrumental in creating effective collaboration among the county’s school districts.
“Julian is a huge spokesperson for public education and a true believer in class-size reduction,” he said.
In recent years, Crocker has been a leader in championing science, technology and math education, Buchman said.
“He has been a tremendous ambassador of the community,” said Buchman, who worked with Crocker in the county office from 1998 to 2004 as a public information officer. “I try to think of the boards he doesn’t sit on, and it is amazing. He has done pretty extensive outreach.”
Crocker has also advocated for universal preschool — making sure all 3- and 4-year-old children have access to quality, free preschool so they are better prepared when they start kindergarten. He supported efforts to pass Proposition 30, a temporary tax hike measure passed in 2012.
“Dr. Crocker has done an excellent job of informing our county about issues that are at the forefront of education,” said Lucia Mar trustee Colleen Martin, who’s served more than eight years on the school board. “He’s been very public — on the radio, TV, newspaper, all forms of media — whether it’s talking about the achievement gap, the new state budget, our EL (English language) learners, or announcing our gains in test scores.”