Karen Schauer has her eye on the future. During her report at the March 24 meeting of the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District Board of Education, the superintendent began by noting the imminent return of in-person instruction and the work on the district’s three-year plan.
Then she announced that, after more than 40 years in education, she was retiring.
“It’s been an amazing career,” Schauer said. “But you know what? It’s time.”
She told the Herald that she has timed her departure so that a new superintendent can oversee all the “transformational” changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district is “working on what that plan through the next three to five years will be, and … I did not see myself continuing for another three to five years,” she said.
She landed her first teaching job in 1980 as a kindergarten teacher at Fairsite Elementary School, now Fairsite Preschool & School Readiness Center. She would also teach first-, second- and third-grade classes. From Fairsite, Schauer shifted into administration, and she was appointed as superintendent in 2007.
Schauer has put down roots in Galt, alongside her husband Richard. Their sons, Benjamin and Joseph, both attended Galt schools.
A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Schauer was the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Schauer said her parents placed great value on education.
“Education – while they didn’t have college degrees themselves – that was something that they would talk to me about along the way,” she said.
That encouragement, along with Schauer’s “really wonderful education experience as a child growing up in Elk Grove” inspired her to go into education.
In her nearly 14 years as superintendent, Schauer has advocated for greater focus on personalized learning for students.
“Aside from learning the core content areas, … I was part of an effort in our school district to really work on the whole child and really tap into individual strengths of children and help them to think about their future,” she said. “That helps a human being be motivated, and it gives a purpose to why they’re at school.”
This initiative was complicated by the Great Recession, which was just beginning as Schauer took office.
According to Schauer, as well as current and former colleagues, a major boost was being selected in 2012 to receive a federal Race to the Top grant. A study in 2018 by the nonprofit WestEd said the $10 million award allowed the district to implement personalized learning plans, ensure students had access to the internet and train teachers in “research-based” English-language development practices.
Donna Mayo-Whitlock, the district’s director of educational services, credited Schauer as a “principal writer” on the grant application.
“Writing that Race to the Top grant right in the middle of a recession — that was huge for our district. It gave us what we needed to move forward,” Mayo-Whitlock said.
While Schauer has announced her retirement, she will remain at the helm until a successor is chosen.
At an April 1 special meeting, the school board authorized the Sacramento County Office of Education to conduct the search. David Gordon, superintendent of the education office, said the district’s next superintendent would ideally be appointed by late June.
In the final months of her term, Schauer is interested in “looking at ways to strengthen in-person learning, whether we’re doing a hybrid, blended model or not,” in addition to identifying lessons from the previous year worth carrying forward. Those ideas will probably be considered for the Local Control Accountability Plan, which lays out district goals for the next three years and is due to be finished around the time Schauer retires.
For her successor, Schauer advised, “Know that this community – the community of Galt – they are always there to support you. You just have to ask.”