The Richland 2 school board released superintendent Katie Brochu from the one year remaining in her contract Thursday night at a special meeting, granting her request to step down effective July 1.
“I am excited to begin the next chapter in my life and equally excited to follow the next chapter of the Richland 2 story,” Brochu said in a prepared statement released by the district. “I want to thank the entire Richland School District Two community for their dedication and support.”
Debbie Hamm, the district’s chief information officer, will serve as interim superintendent.
Brochu has been superintendent of the Midlands’ largest school district since July 2010. Her current contract would have expired in June 2014.
Efforts to reach Brochu after Thursday’s announcement were unsuccessful. But her decision to step down follows a year in which critics and some board members had raised concerns about several issues, among them the direction of the district and the cost of professional training Brochu had instituted for teachers and administrators.
After the board expressed its concerns last fall, the superintendent wrote a 75-page response in December. About 25 pages were a direct response to board inquiries following a tense public meeting in late October. Another 50 pages were devoted to line items delineating the cost of Schlechty Center professional training that Brochu has embraced for the district, board chairman Bill Flemming said at the time.
“I think we were surprised at the resignation,” board member James Manning said Thursday. “I do not know what her future endeavors are, but I wish her the best with whatever that may be.”
Flemming said there had been some indications but declined to elaborate.
Brochu succeeded popular veteran superintendent Steve Hefner, who is now at the top post in Lexington-Richland 5. But she ruffled feathers when she slashed the number of administrators and moved to eliminate many working retirees. Those initiatives were met with protest and suspicion that she was changing the award-winning Richland 2 culture.
In December, Flemming characterized the board’s evaluation of Brochu as “middle-of-the-road to critical,” adding it perhaps served as a wake-up call. Brochu is paid an annual salary of $223,000.
Some were not surprised by Brochu’s resignation.
“There were some warning signs very early that this may not have been a good fit, and I think this is clearly what is best for the district and Dr. Brochu,” said S.C. Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland. “I never could sense that there was any great relationship building between her and the rank-and-file people who run our district.”
Lourie said Brochu, following in the footsteps of Hefner, had tried to do too much too quickly, citing efforts to build a new district office in a time when “we were looking at cuts in education and teachers were losing their jobs” as one example.
Hefner, reached after Thursday’s announcement, said he had just learned about the resignation and had no advance indication it was coming.
“This was news to me,” Hefner said, adding he had no insight into what might have led to the decision.
“I cheer for my fellow superintendents and I hate to see when any of them leave the job,” he said. “I certainly wish Katie all the best in whatever she chooses to do next.”
Richland 2 board member Susan Brill called the resignation a “mutual agreement,” adding she believed the outcome was positive for all parties.
“We’re moving on and I think she has good future prospects,” she said.
Hamm, who will step in as interim superintendent, has spent 34 of her 39 years in education in Richland 2
“I’m honored to be asked to serve in this capacity,” Hamm said. “We have a great group of people to work within the district, and I know that we will continue to move the district forward together.”
Flemming said no specific timeline has been set yet for finding a new superintendent.
Reporters Cassie Cope and Jamie Self contributed.