After 58 first days of school, Janice Adams is ready for commencement.
When the Benicia school superintendent retires in June, she will commence sleeping in and reading everything she wants and traveling and spending time with her husband, family and friends.
“My husband has been retired for almost five years, and we don’t have enough time to spend together. There’s no time for me to spend with him when I work at least 50 hours a week,” she says, explaining her decision to step down after heading the district for eight years. “There are other things I’m interested in. I just want to explore what’s out there.”
Janice saw many changes during her years as superintendent, including the introduction of Common Core curriculum standards, the increased role of technology in classrooms, and large swings in state funding. But Benicia’s commitment to education remained strong throughout.
“We still have that small-town feeling of a community that cares for its kids,” says Janice, 63. Janice and her husband, Pete, moved their family here 26 years ago. Their three grown children all graduated from Benicia High School.
Her retirement means a new chapter for the district’s 5,000 students and 450 employees. The district expects to name a new superintendent in May. “I don’t have an exact retirement date because I want to be flexible to help with the transition,” she says.
Until then, she is focusing on work and trying to keep retirement celebrations to a minimum.
“I’m really grateful I chose education for my career,” she says. “It’s been a meaningful life.”
What change most affected the district during your years as superintendent? The biggest thing to happen was the recession. It really hit us hard for four years, and the fifth year we were just climbing out of it. We lost 20 percent of our revenue. We are not back to our 2007-2008 levels yet, but we are working our way to it. The state is working with the formulas to get us back to the 2007-2008 levels.
We got federal government ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds. That helped us, and the community rallied behind us. Parents made donations, bought school supplies, the staff took furlough days—everyone did all we could to keep the cuts away from the kids. The board really provided good leadership during that time. We got through it a lot easier than some folks.
How has Common Core changed what happens in classrooms? With Common Core, there is less of a teacher standing in front of a classroom and delivering a lecture, and more of a teacher giving a mini-lesson. The students then apply what they learned from that lesson to solve a problem while the teacher helps them. Students feel more engaged, more excited about learning.
What impact has technology had on education? The way students learn is different now. If students want to build a mini-bike, they’re not going to get a book from the library. They’re going to go online. They have more info in their hands than I had in my high school library. Now they can interact with other schools and can take virtual tours of museums. They’re not always learning from a textbook that goes out of date almost as soon as it’s published.
How has the district responded to changes in technology? There’s a little bit of learning going on for us as educators. We have pilot programs in the district for technology, and we’ve learned from other districts. We have to manage it to insure student safety.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? I came in when morale was really low, when there was not a lot of trust of the district within the community. I feel proud that I was able to come in and build bridges to the community. I’m very proud to have worked with amazing board members. There’s always been respect, even when we don’t agree. There is a shared interest in doing the right thing.
The district now has a good working relationship with the Police Department, Parks and Rec, and City Hall. We’re all working together for the good of the community. My leadership style is building relationships.
I’m also proud that we passed the school bond last June. That will bring in $49 million to modernize and update our schools.
What’s the next big change coming in public education? There are lots of changes coming in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Our nation’s workforce needs are changing, so we have to change the way we educate our students and what we teach them. There are not as many middle-class jobs available now as in the past, and students are going to need more science, technology and math to get those good jobs.
How have people responded to your retirement announcement? It’s been really positive. People really have been kind. I’ve been really touched. It did create a little more anxiety than I anticipated among district leadership. They want to know who they’ll be working for, so I understand that little bit of anxiety. Everyone is anxious to make sure we get the right person. The board is being very thoughtful and inclusive.
What projects do you hope to complete before you leave? We’re really working on getting the bond moving, getting the project list together. We’ll be rewiring all seven sites, increasing the bandwidth, and we’re going to paint the high school—that’s so overdue.
We’re also working with a consultant who will work with the district and BEF (Benicia Education Foundation) on a strategic plan for fundraising.
I plan to work hard until the very last day. There are a lot of little details. I have a list of things I want to finish up and some to pass on to the next superintendent.
What types of activities do you want to try once you have more free time? I just want to explore what’s out there. I want to take an art history class or a gardening class. I might try to learn a foreign language—I might learn French. I want to dabble. I want to learn what I want to do.
Do you have an overall plan for your next chapter? I just can’t wait to have time to sleep in and read, and we want to go to all the National Parks.
I’m staying in Benicia—this is a great community. I’m not going to make a lot of commitments. I’m not going to join a lot of boards right now. I may coach elementary principals—I loved being an elementary principal. …
I thrive on change. I have the maybe-naïve idea that it’s going to be fine to be retired. I’m not worried. When school starts in August, I may take a pause, but it will be OK.
Any advice to offer as the district makes this transition? Keep up the great work. We accomplish more when we work together.
What do you hope to be doing in five years? I’ll be right here in Benicia, and I hope to be healthy and spending time with my family and friends. And I’d be happy to be a grandmother—but no pressure, kids!