After 25 years at Sonora High School as a teacher and administrator, retiring superintendent Pat Chabot describes leaving as bittersweet.
Chabot, who turns 61 on Friday, faced controversy and contention during much of his two-year stint as district superintendent. During the 2015-16 school year, the district implemented a fiscal recovery plan that mandated the partial layoff of multiple employees.
During the 2017-18 school year, the district faced further criticism for the designation of the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch as surplus property.
But throughout his tenure as superintendent, Chabot said his focus and his priority was always on the students. When he retires on Aug. 22, Chabot said the district will be in a better place than when he started.
“I’m going to miss Sonora High School, but I think we are leaving it in really good hands,” he said.
Chabot announced his retirement at a Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting on May 1.
Dr. Mark Miller, superintendent of the Juneau School District in Alaska, was announced as Chabot’s replacement on July 24, but ratification of his contract is still pending approval from the trustees at a regular meeting of the board. Chabot’s contract was extended from Aug. 1 to Aug. 22 following the selection process.
Chabot offered one piece of advice for Miller that encapsulated his philosophy of leadership in the role of superintendent at the district.
“Do what's best for students. Always keep students in the forefront of any decision you make,” Chabot said.
Miller’s contract is set to begin on Aug. 20, the day before the start of the 2018-19 school year. In the interceding two days when they both would be on the job, Chabot said he will meet with Miller as a part of the transition.
They previously met during a discussion with board members, Chabot said, describing Miller as a “very nice guy, very knowledgeable, very experienced.”
For Chabot, education was not a first career, but a profession guided by his decision to raise a family in Sonora.
Chabot grew up in Michigan, he said, where received a graduate degree in packaging engineering from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Chabot worked at Northrop Aircraft (now Northrop Grumman), in Los Angeles for 12 years and moved to Sonora in 1993 with his wife to raise their three children.
“I realized L.A. was not a good place to raise kids, so we wanted to move to a small town. We were both from small towns,” he said.
Chabot received his teaching credential in 1992 and taught math for 14 years at Sonora High School.
“What can you do in a small town? I thought being a teacher would be very interesting,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the community or give back to the people.”
In his career he rose through the administrative ranks to vice principal, assistant principal and associate principal before becoming principal in the 2014-15 school year.
Chabot then served as district superintendent for the next two years.
Of his tenure as superintendent, Chabot said he believes “the positives easily outweigh any negatives.”
Despite the public and often volatile controversies that embroil district leadership, he said Sonora High School is the best of any school in the foothills.
“Test scores are as high or higher than any other schools,” he said. “We have fantastic students, fantastic staff and fantastic facilities.”
Chabot said he believes the most important component of his legacy is the impact the district made on the lives of students. Secondary education, career and program pathways were made accessible and expanded throughout the district, he said.
“There’s four-year college, careers, military, and programs for any student that wants to do anything they want,” he said. “We’ve offered a lot of classes. We have programs for just about everybody.”
The positive impact of the district on the lives of students was augmented by the longevity of his campus role, he said.
“That's what makes this place such a great place to work. People who work at Sonora High School also went to school here,” he said.
Students who visited his office often would tell him that their parents were once his students, he said.
“It makes me feel a little old, but it’s really cool. It makes me feel proud of what we’ve accomplished here at this school,” he said. “It shows that this school has really made an impact on the lives of our students. The entire staff here makes a huge impact on the lives of our students everyday.”
Chabot said he does not have any “big regrets,” but he wishes he “could have done more.”
“Hindsight is always 20/20. There are some things I would do differently now, but my staff and myself have done the best we could,” he said.
Chabot declined to identify any specific instances where he would have handled a decision differently, but noted that diminished state funding contributed to the constraints on the district.
“I wish we had the funding to do more for our students,” he said. “It's hard to do everything we want to do for every student.”
Chabot said the future of the historic Sonora Dome is an issue he wishes he could have seen through to the end.
“I did my best trying to keep things going as smoothly as possible,” he said. “Most people recognize that the dome can’t be used from an education standpoint.”
On the designation of a portion of the Wildcat Ranch as surplus property, which will open it up to sale following a many-month process during the 2018-19 school year, Chabot said hostility toward the district was misplaced.
“The Wildcat Ranch was never meant to be just an agriculture ranch. It was purchased back in the 80s to be a high school, and that didn't come to fruition, so we are trying to come to terms with that,” he said.
In mid-May, after his retirement announcement, the Sonora High School Federation of Teachers declared a vote of no confidence in the district’s Board of Trustees, primarily over the district’s decision to entertain a proposal from Sonora non-profit The Park Foundation on a land swap — the ranch for a property adjacent to the high school, plus cash.
The deal never came to fruition, and the board later designated a portion of the property surplus to open it up to public sale.
Chabot said there were no internal machinations made to oust him from the position, and that he “planned on retiring this year for quite a while.”
“There may be some people who were upset with me, but no one forced me out,” he said.
Additional accomplishments of his tenure included the completion of the Measure J bond projects, completion of the lawsuit against the district over the construction of the Sonora High School Aquatic center, updating the campus fire alarm system and hiring “fantastic teachers.”
In his retirement, Chabot said he is “kind of looking forward to relaxing a little bit” and doing “some volunteer work in the community.”