CENTRAL POINT — After a nearly four-decade career in education, outgoing School District No. 6 Superintendent Randy Gravon likes to joke that he's "been going to school for 56 years."
This fall, for the first time in more than a half-century, he won't set an alarm clock to wake up for the first day of a new school year. Retiring in July, Gravon will transition from district chief to full-time grandpa.
"It's a bittersweet kind of thing because there's part of me that is very excited about having time to do the things I haven't been able to," he said.
"But I'm also going to really miss this place after 38 years. I've been going to school since I was 5, so it's going to be hard when fall comes around and I'm not getting ready for school.
"What for a long time has seemed like it was 'down the road' is now right around the corner."
Gravon, who has been superintendent for eight years, began his career in the same district that he wound up leading. An Oregon native, Gravon was born in Portland, grew up in Bend and came to the Rogue Valley to attend Southern Oregon State College in 1971.
When he graduated in 1975, he went to work as a special education teacher at Central Point Elementary and later as a district supervisor of special programs.
In 1983, he moved to Medford School District, spending 13 years as an elementary school principal at Jefferson, Griffin Creek and Jackson elementary schools.
Returning to Central Point Schools for good in 1996, he signed on as director of personnel and was named superintended in 2005. While his administrative role left him longing for his days in the classroom, Gravon said he realized the importance of strong district leadership.
"When I was a principal, I got to work with kids and teachers everyday and it was just such an uplifting experience because, no matter what was going on, if you went down to the first-grade wing or into any classroom it was a reminder of why we do what we do," said Gravon.
"When I came to the district office, I really missed the connection with the kids but I was able to change focus and realize I was working with adults who have that responsibility and I was able to impact an even greater number of students."
All things considered, the 62-year-old said, his biggest challenges weren't much different than those of administrators around the state.
"Stable funding is the elephant in the room. When you don't know from year to year what your funding is going to be, it's very difficult to establish long term plans," he said.
"And I definitely won't miss is how political that public education has become," Gravon said. "What used to be a social responsibility has now become a political punching bag, and that to me is very sad."
A particular issue for District 6 in recent years, transforming Crater High to a small schools model, raised controversy of its own among some parents. After sticking with the small schools concept, district officials saw college attendance levels and state testing results soar for Crater kids. Nearly 70 percent of the school's 2012 graduates enrolled in college, according to statistics the district has compiled.
"Yes, we lost some things, like cross campus camaraderie, but we have three distinct schools and we have increased AP courses and rigor and curriculum," he said.
"It's important to decide what our highest priorities for our students are. We now rank behind only Ashland in student assessment scores. That's certainly not where we were six or seven years ago."
Bob King, principal of one of the small schools, Crater Renaissance, applauded Gravon's high standards and commitment to positive changes for the district.
"Randy has been able to provide vision for our district and was able to effectively communicate that vision and support real change," King said.
"It's become pretty standard to jump from one initiative to the next in terms of school reform but I think Randy has some deep beliefs about really looking for ways to build systems that are meaningful for kids and to stick with them and that takes a lot of courage to do."
Gravon's assistant for eight years, Robin Adams, said she would miss Gravon's approach to issues and his passion for education.
"Randy has a calm demeanor and he really doesn't personalize when people are voicing their concerns about something or they're in the heat of the moment," Adams said.
"His focus has just always been to look out for what's best for the families and the children of this district and he has always pushed everyone to do their best. His bottom line was that he just wanted the absolute best for our kids."
Gravon's wife Cherie, administrative assistant to Medford superintendent Phil Long, will join Gravon in retirement this July.
Samantha Steel, the district's former director of education, will take Gravon's place upon his retirement.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.