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Outgoing superintendent says he's 'ready for next big adventure'

 

Maurice Ghysels, who has headed the Menlo Park City School District since mid-2011, says he plans to leave the district at the end of the school year because the time is right, both for him and for the district.

In an interview, he said he has accomplished his goals: a "super strong" leadership team is in place, and the district has adopted a set of core values, a strategic vision and guiding principles.

The district is ready to go to the "next level," he said, "and at the same time, I'm ready for a new adventure."

Mr. Ghysels, 60, has had a long career in education, but he also spent four years as an executive with Citibank and a year with a startup. "I think this is probably the longest gig I've had," he said.

"I like to create, build, startup and get things in place to where they can sustain, and then go on to the next adventure," he said.

Menlo Park governing board member Maria Hilton, who was board president when Mr. Ghysels was hired by the district, agreed that he has put a strong foundation in place to continue the work he has begun.

Mr. Ghysels was hired in part because the district was looking for someone who could "identify, attract and retain talent," she said. "To a person, across our principals and key leadership roles across the district," she said, "Maurice has helped us get the best possible people. I can't tell you how valuable that is."

She said that when Mr. Ghysels was hired, the district was also looking for someone to help it become a "core-value, strategic vision" district, and he has helped put those things in place.

"He's continued to deliver on those things that we were interested in," she said. The leadership team in place can continue to work toward the goals the district has identified under Mr. Ghysels, she said.

"Could he be the one to continue this work absolutely," she said. But for him, she said, moving on "is an opportunity to say: 'What do I really enjoy the most?' "

What's next for Mr. Ghysels?

"I'm in that mode of thinking and ideating and not taking anything off the table," he said.

His dream job, he said, is not "by topic" but "when I feel alive and feel like I'm doing good, and making an impact." He said he could end up inside, or outside, education.

He plans to stay in the area. He lives in Menlo Park with his wife, Carmen Mizell, who works in Mountain View.

With an undergraduate degree in economics from San Jose State, and a teaching credential in social studies, math and life sciences, he started his career as a high school teacher at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton. He received a doctorate in educational organization and leadership from the University of San Francisco while he was working.

He soon became a vice principal and was a principal by his mid-30s. Some teachers he was supervising were his parents' age, he noted.

At that point, Mr. Ghysels' said, his career took a detour when he was recruited to become an executive with Citicorp. The job included training employees as the company began adopting internet banking.

"It was an internal start-up," he said.

Although he had thought he'd take only a one-year leave of absence, he worked in New York City for Citicorp for four years, returning home to his family in the Bay Area on weekends.

He then spent a year working for a Silicon Valley start-up, Groundswell Inc., which he describes as a business-to-business consulting firm. "We were in that dot.com irrational exuberance stage," he said, and the company ran through its funding in a year.

"It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life," Mr. Ghysels said.

Mr. Ghysels then returned to education as a deputy superintendent in the Campbell Union Elementary School District, before becoming superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District from 2005 to 2010. He left the Mountain View district after revealing to its school board that he and Carmen Mizell, who was a principal at a Mountain View Whisman school, were involved in a romantic relationship. Both were married to others at the time.

Soon after the affair was announced, Mr. Ghysels went to work for the Santa Clara County Office of Education as its chief schools officer, before moving on to the Menlo Park district.

School board member Ms. Hilton said Mr. Ghysels "continued to deliver on those things we were interested in," during his tenure.

"All of the things I was personally hoping for, he really did deliver," she said. "My only hope is he really thinks about staying in education" so he could end up "sharing that knowledge and experience" he gained in Menlo Park with another district, she said

"We are eternally grateful for him," Ms. Hilton said.

Mr. Ghysels said he is most proud of "the people I've worked with who have made these great things happen" in the district. "I think overall the students' experience has been transformative in academics, in their social emotional wellbeing, and their access to really discovering what their strengths are and what their talents are."

"Our students are among the best educated in the world, and extraordinarily prepared for college and beyond," he said.

"The greatest accomplishment of a leader is creating a collaboration, a collection of people, a community," he said.

"I'm surely not perfect, I know I've not always made the right calls," he said. But making a mistake simply means, he said, that "it's back to learning."

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