Orchard Park Schools Superintendent Joan D. Thomas wiped away tears Tuesday night as she announced her retirement after nearly 40 years with the district.
Her secretary and district clerk, Cheryl A. Connors, passed the tissues around the School Board's table as Thomas, 64, said she would leave at the end of the school year.
"Somebody told me years and years ago, 'You'll know when it's time to go,' " she said. "I really believe it's the right time. It's very hard to make the announcement, but this is the right time. I've done what I needed to do here."
"We are saddened to see her retire," Board President Donald Sniezak said. "When we hired her she agreed to stay three years and we are thankful she has stayed for five."
Thomas was named superintendent in 2005 after the district underwent a rocky time when many administrators left the district, and the previous superintendent, Paul J. Grekalski, was put on leave after information surfaced that calls to sex chat lines and escort services were made on his district-issued cell phone.
"She is exactly what this district needed in 2005, a trusted member of the faculty and community," Sniezak said. "Joan's leadership style is one that engages everyone in the decision-making process and she values their opinion."
This is the second time Thomas has submitted her retirement from the district, and third time she has left Orchard Park. She started at the district as a science teacher in 1970 and was later named science coordinator. She served as an assistant principal at West Seneca West High School and principal of Potter Road Elementary in West Seneca, before being appointed principal at Orchard Park Middle School. She served as interim assistant superintendent for curriculum for a short time before becoming superintendent.
It was as middle school principal that many came to know Thomas, including board Vice President Maria Lehman, who served on school committees when her children were in middle school, and Board Member Rachel Baksa, who was a student at the school.
Baksa said she recalled the night she was elected, and she greeted her former principal.
"I can now call you Joan, instead of Mrs. Thomas," Baksa recalled saying, and she added, "I will always consider you a friend."
Several commented on Thomas' energy and enthusiasm. Assistant Superintendent Dennis Fitscher talked about her two speeds -- fast and faster -- and he was not referring to the marathons she runs. He noted that under Thomas' tenure as superintendent, budgets and bus propositions have been approved, elementary schools were realigned, labor agreements were reached before contracts expired, a $24 million capital project was approved and a safe schools program was enacted.
Thomas said she plans to continue teaching education administration courses at Canisius College.