Superintendent Kevin Skelly announces retirement


Samantha Johnstone

Superintendent Kevin Skelly jumps into the newly renovated Burlingame Aquatic Center pool alongside students and faculty at the opening ceremony on Jan. 8, 2020.

Samantha Johnstone, Managing Editor

On Jan. 12, San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) Superintendent Kevin Skelly announced his retirement after seven years in the district. His career in education started 40 years ago, most notably working as the superintendent for Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) for seven years. 

“As superintendent, whether it’s business issues, personal stuff, curricular issues, time with kids, extracurriculars or watching kids in action — I just love it all,” Skelly said. “I just really enjoy so many parts of it, and I think that with the parents, families, kids, teachers and support staff, there’s just a great culture here.” 

Skelly hopes his time in the SMUHSD left people feeling supported in their respective roles. English teacher Sophie Abitbol has worked in the SMUHSD for 19 years, and found Skelly to be exactly that — supportive and genuinely caring.

“He’s very approachable, I’ve been here long enough to have experienced the leadership of maybe three of four superintendents, and he’s the only one who ever knew my name, or that I’ve spoken to or that I’ve seen walking around the halls,” Abitbol said. 

During lockdown in 2020, Abitbol began to explore the idea of getting a Spanish credential, and it was Skelly who motivated her to do so.

“He actually encouraged me to do so at the start last year, when I was sitting outside at the lunch tables,” Abitbol said.

Despite his best efforts, Skelly has not come out of nearly 15 years as a superintendent unscathed. He notes the hardest part of his career to be the suicide clusters that rocked the PAUSD in 2009 and 2015.

“Being a high school student is not easy, it’s full of emotions and pieces like that, and whenever a student passes, that’s the hardest part of work, for sure,” Skelly said. 

His decision to then leave the PAUSD in 2014 came off of parents and community members who were critical towards his lack of transparency regarding a middle school bullying case that violated a disabled student’s civil rights. Despite the controversy, 90% of PAUSD parents and 93% of students said they were “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the district, in a 2013 survey under Skelly’s leadership. 

“My last child was graduating, so they were 18-years-old, and we were finishing up at Gunn. I had worked a long time, and felt like I wanted to, you know, travel, see some people I cared about … I needed a sabbatical, if you will,” Skelly said.

After working as an interim-superintendent in the Mountain View Whisman School District for less than a year, he was hired as the superintendent of SMUHSD in July 2015. 

Before his work in the superintendent field, Skelly was a math teacher, a Spanish teacher, an assistant principal and a principal. He hopes to return to these roots during retirement, finding other ways to contribute to the district without the hefty commitment of a full-time job.

“I plan to substitute teach or contribute in other ways…I think it’ll be healthy for me to serve in math classes or English learner classes,” Skelly said. “ I also plan to stay living in San Mateo. I like going to basketball games, football games, plays, dance performances — you know, the whole high school world,” Skelly said.