Alexandria Public Schools Superintendent Julie Critz has been telling people for years that she’s going to get certain goals of hers done “when she has more time.”
Now she is finally going to get that extra time. On June 30, 2020, Critz will close out her education career and begin retirement. The Alexandria School Board accepted her letter of retirement at its board meeting Nov. 18.
Critz has two grown daughters who are married and have children of their own. In retirement, she plans to spend more time with her children and grandchildren. One of her daughters lives in Minneapolis and the other lives in Sauk Centre.
She and her husband, Mitch, have also welcomed into their family Jude Pelowski, providing a stable home life for him to finish high school. Pelowski now attends college at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Her family has been discussing her retirement for a while, as she qualified for retirement some years ago. She has been in education for 36 years and said the timing was right.
Critz also wants to be active in retirement. She used to regularly golf and is considering going back to it.
“At this point, I feel like the district is in a really great position in terms of programming, facilities and financially,” she said. The number of initiatives she and district staff have worked on in the last few years are a good signifier of this good position, she said, but there is still work to be done.
The voter-approved operating levy that was approved Nov. 5 has contributed to the district moving to a better spot financially, she said.
Critz could not pick one particular moment or career highlight that stuck out to her during her 36 years because she said there were too many. But the main rewarding part of her job is seeing children who succeed.
“People go into education to make a difference in the lives of children. That’s been my goal every step of the journey,” she said. She’s kept this in mind when she was a kindergarten teacher, sixth grade teacher, principal, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning and superintendent.
Scott Heckert, district human resources director, agrees. Heckert has known Critz the longest of any other administration or cabinet members. They first met during her interview in 2001 for principal for Washington Elementary School, and he said she was a good candidate because she brought a lot of energy and had good ideas.
One of these good ideas was teaching reading in a different way at Washington, he said. She was a leader for a balanced literacy initiative, putting in a lot of extra time to change from a standard approach of reading a story as a class and completing workbook pages to individualized learning, so students were getting instruction at their own level.
Other highlights during her five years as superintendent include bringing in book studies for district staff, guest speakers for staff and having leadership retreats, Heckert said. She’s also been open to technology and helped bring it in for students and teachers.
“One thing about Julie is that she is very progressive,” Heckert said. “She is always looking for that next thing.”
The parts Critz will miss the most are working with staff members. Given the changing nature of education and the increased diverse needs of students, the staff has been responsive as a system and as individuals, she said.
She said she was so proud to partner with an incredibly supportive community as well, noting that Alexandria is a great place to work.
Critz said she has absolutely loved being an educator. “I’m proud of the profession; it’s hard work for teachers, for principals, for everyone. It’s been a wonderful career that I’ve enjoyed very much.”
The district is going to miss her, Heckert said. She’s been a thoughtful leader who doesn’t make snap decisions and has always wanted the best instructional practices for kids.
Throughout the years he’s worked with her closely and met with her regularly during staff meetings. Since Heckert has been a part of Critz’s cabinet, they’ve met almost daily, discussing district initiatives.
But she’s been more than just someone to work with, she’s been a friend, Heckert said.
“When you work close together that many years, you get to know each others’ families and you get to know each others’ struggles,” he said.
Being a school leader is difficult work, Heckert said. “I think Julie did a nice job of finding that balance of what needed to be done in order to make sure that District 206 kept that rich tradition, and looking forward to that bright future.”