- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

The head of Virginia’s largest school system announced his retirement yesterday.

Fairfax County public schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said he will return to New York City.

Mr. Domenech, 58, told the Associated Press he had “six wonderful years” in Fairfax, but needed to go back north to care for his elderly parents, who are in their 80s and “becoming more dependent on me every day.” He also has three grown children and six grandchildren in the New York area.

Born in Cuba, Mr. Domenech moved to the United States when he was 9. His career in education began in one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, where he was a sixth-grade teacher. He later moved on to the Long Island suburbs, becoming superintendent of schools in Deer Park, N.Y., then in South Huntington, N.Y.

He arrived in Fairfax County in January 1998, taking over from Robert R. Spillane, a 12-year veteran who had left several months earlier when the School Board refused to extend his contract

“This was an excellent school system when I came, and my biggest challenge was that it was about to undergo some significant demographic changes and it has,” Mr. Domenech said yesterday.

“In the time that I’ve been here, the number of free- and reduced-lunch students has doubled, the number of children that are limited English proficient has doubled. The ethnic makeup of the school system has increased significantly. Yet, in spite of those demographic shifts, the school system is performing at the highest level ever, today.”

Asked if he had any regrets, Mr. Domenech responded, “None at all.”

The elected School Board will be responsible for finding a replacement, though that is expected to be done in consultation with the Board of Supervisors.

“I think the next superintendent is going to face the reality that external resources are very limited. And that means that we’re going to have to redouble our efforts to identify internal savings in the school system, to help fund new programs or expansion of existing programs,” said Gerald A. Connolly, a Democrat on the Board of Supervisors who will become chairman Dec. 15.

“Over and above the operational cost, we’re also, of course, going to have to continue to manage the need for new schools and renovation of existing schools,” Mr. Connolly said.

On Monday, the school system presented a 10-year, $1.94 billion capital improvement plan. In the first five years, it called for spending more than $650 million on building new schools, as well as renovating and putting additions on some old ones.

Mr. Domenech’s announcement comes a month after his chief deputy, Nancy Freitag Sprague, died of a heart ailment.

“We need to move swiftly to fill that void,” Mr. Connolly said.

The largest school system both in the state and in the Washington area, and the 12th largest in the nation, Fairfax County has about 166,600 students, more than 21,000 employees, and a $1.6 billion operating budget for this school year. Ninety percent of its high school graduates go on to college.

Mr. Domenech said that once in New York he will become a senior vice president of urban markets for McGraw-Hill Education.

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