Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Harry Bull will retire in June to spend more time with his children and generally decompress from the rigors of running a 55,000-student school district. Photo by Peter Jones
BY PETER JONES
Ask Harry Bull about his decision to retire at the end of this schoolyear and he tells an anecdote about the school district retirement parties he has attended over the years.
“The mic gets handed to the person who’s retiring,” said the superintendent of Cherry Creek Schools. “The first thing out of the person’s mouth is an apology to their children for having spent more time on other people’s children than their own children—I said to myself, if I were ever blessed to have a family, I wasn’t going to do that.”
Bull announced this month he would retire at the end of June after more than three decades working for the district as a teacher, dean, principal, administrator and finally superintendent since 2013. The reasons for his exit are of a personal nature, he said.
“My kids are growing up fast and I’ve been realizing for a time that there’s just chunks of their lives I’m missing,” Bull explained. “It’s something that I’ve been attentive to, but there’s a lure of this office. It’s kind of the sirens from the cliffs that pulls you in.”
Bull’s stress and health were the other factors that prompted the superintendent’s decision to step down from the helm of a district that boasts 55,000 students and 8,000 employees.
“I don’t know if it’s my inability to do this job differently or it’s just the job, but you live in this world of constant stress, and that stress is taking a toll on me personally,” said Bull, who turns 61 in March. “When I was 45-50, my body probably wore stress better. As I’ve gotten older, my body doesn’t wear it as well”
When Bull steps down this summer, it will mark the end of nearly four decades as an educator and leader in the K-12 system, including his work prior to joining Cherry Creek in 1984.
During his career, Bull has been named Superintendent of the Year and School Library Journal’s Administrator of the Year, among a litany of other professional designations. In 2017, Bull was named The Villager’s Man of the Year.
In 2013, Bull convened more than 70 of Colorado’s superintendents to develop a position paper that called for restoring nearly $1 billion in K-12 funding. The partially successful efforts were credited with helping to secure more money for all the state’s public schools.
As an academic leader, Bull has focused on student achievement, raising the Hispanic graduation rate and improving the ACT scores of minority students, prompting recognition from the Colorado Department of Education. Under Bull, the district has been recognized as one of the large Colorado school districts to make the most progress in those areas.
Last week, Cherry Creek announced its on-time graduation rate had reached a record high of 90 percent for the class of 2017, compared to the state average of 79 percent.
The recent moving back of the high school start time, in recognition of the science of the teenage brain, is one of the most significant changes under his leadership, Bull says.
“That is really about the health of children. It’s not a game changer. It’s a life changer,” he said.
Unfortunately, Bull has also had to contend—and stress—with the unfortunate realities of misbehaving teachers, including recent reports of sexual abuse.
“When you’re superintendent, everything that happens is yours. It just is—the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.
Through thick and thin, when Bull uses the word “superintendent” as a verb, he makes clear what kind of administrator he has tried to be.
“The way I superintendent is with my heart,” he said. “I bring the passion. Emotionally, I commit to the job. I commit to the district. I commit to the people.”
The outgoing administrator says he has no particular plans other than spending more time with his four children who range in age from 7 to 14.
“I’ve got to work really hard on decompressing, if you will, from this intensity level. I don’t believe you do that by leaving here to go to another job,” he said. “I’m actually going to try to do what most retirees don’t do. I’m going to try to retire.
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