By Aliyah Mohammed
Staff Writer, Milpitas Post & Bay Area News Group
Milpitas High School Principal Ken Schlaff made a surprise announcement at a staff meeting on Jan. 31 he will retire by June 30.
Schlaff has been principal of the 3,000-student school for six years, taking over after longtime principal Charles Gary retired in 2008. Schlaff has served as an assistant and associate principal for a total of 17 years in the Milpitas Unified School District.
Schlaff, 55, said there are no personnel or health issues contributing to his decision to retire, but rather that "this is the time for me to be able to do other things...I would like to do some stuff that I have neglected and I am financially in a place to do that."
Schlaff said that being principal of a high school as big as Milpitas High is an "all or nothing" job that doesn't leave room for much else, involving 14-hour days during the week with additional work on weekends and holidays.
"Why not? People think this is my life, this is who I am," Schlaff said. "You have to have some balance... I don't want my work to be the entirety of what my life experiences are."
Schlaff said being an administrator and teacher has left little to no time for his other business and recreational interests, which include travelling the world; skiing, surfing and cycling; and working with other organizations such as the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
"I used to travel all over, extensively over Latin America and South America. I did immersion programs in Spanish in Antigua and Ecuador; travelled all over Europe spending lots of time in England, Spain and France," he said.
When Schlaff was 23 he flew to Brussels, Belgium and spent eight weeks driving from Amsterdam to France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Germany, camping in a tent every night.
"These are the things I used to do, so I'm looking to return to that lifestyle," he said.
Depending on how things pan out, Schlaff hopes to work for California State University, East Bay and Santa Clara University as a teacher supervisor, and instructing educational leadership courses, as well as revisiting his time at the Academy of Science organizing volunteers to give tours.
He also hopes to ski as much as his schedule will permit, with the possibility of teaching skiing on weekends at Lake Tahoe.
Schlaff said that he tends to fall into things as opportunities arise.
"I never sought to be a principal. People around me are always like, 'Oh you should try this,' and I am like, 'Cool, why not try this? I am open to anything,'" he said.
Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said that the district received Schlaff's letter of intent to resign at the end of January. In order to receive retirement health care, letters must be submitted by Jan. 31. His retirement was discussed in closed session and approved by the district's Board of Education on Feb. 11.
"It did come as a surprise. He pulled me aside after a meeting and told me he planned on retiring. I was very surprised," Matsuoka said. "He has been a very hardworking and energetic principal...he has transformed Milpitas High School while he was principal...helping to lead the school to where it is today. Some of the stuff he focused on was classroom instruction, Advanced Placement scores and improving college admission data."
Matsuoka said the high school community has been informed of Schlaff's imminent departure, and said that he is in the process of meeting with stakeholders (teachers, parents and students) to determine what characteristics and traits are desired in the next principal. The position will be posted on education job portals on March 1, with the hopes of hiring someone by the end of April.
Schlaff said that he thinks there are five requirements that any candidate hoping to get the position must posses: "One, really really enjoy working with students; two, be able to establish informal relationships with students, which allows for the building of respect of and understanding; three, you have to be a system person, take a high school of this size and create a system that will serve everyone; four, you have to hire well, people are the program and play to their strengths; five, have to be creative and be willing to put in a lot of hours."
Milpitas Board of Education President Marsha Grilli shared her thoughts.
"As a school board member I am sad to see Ken retire. His leadership has contributed to the continued improvement of MHS and success of our students. He will be greatly missed by the board, staff and students," she said. "As Ken is also a friend, I am pleased that he will have this new opportunity to spend time with his wife and travel. He will be remembered as a positive, effective leader who had compassion for his staff and our students."