A quarter-century of service to the students of the Calaveras Unified School District comes to an end soon as Michael Merrill, principal of Calaveras High School, has accepted a position as superintendent of the Summerville Union High School District in Tuolumne County.
“I can’t imagine CHS without Mr. Merrill,” said Dee Dee Weatherby, the office manager at Calaveras High.
On June 22, outgoing Summerville Superintendent Robert Griffith and board President Randy Richter announced Merrill had been selected to lead the district that operates Summerville High, the Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy, small-but-necessary high schools and an independent study program. The appointment was made official on June 27. Merrill starts on July 16.
Calaveras Unified Superintendent Mark Campbell said Merrill’s departure leaves a gap not only in the district, but in the community.
“It’s bittersweet in that this is a significant growth opportunity for him, and Summerville will be stronger now, but the gap in CUSD, professionally and personally, that he leaves will prove challenging to fill,” Campbell said.
Merrill grew up in the Stockton area and attended Lincoln High School, where he taught after graduating from the University of California, Davis. He also coached football and track and field there.
“I never pictured being in administration,” Merrill said. But as he continued to earn educational credits, the next step became obvious. He earned a Master’s Degree in Administration from National University.
Merrill said the decision to move to Summerville was not an easy one, but said the Summerville community has been welcoming.
“I love the place,” he said. “It’s definitely an opportunity close to home.”
“Here in Calaveras, I’ll walk into a place and know five or 10 people,” Merrill said. “I look forward to meeting the Summerville community.”
He worked as principal at Valley Springs Elementary School for four years and was principal at Calaveras High for two years before moving to the district office to be the director of fiscal services for CUSD. For the past eight years, he has been principal at Calaveras High.
Merrill said he liked starting new school years with students during the Senior Sunrise, and then hugging each graduate as the young men and women received their diplomas in June. Dress-up days and homecomings all made for fun times while helping students succeed.
He said he had great respect and admiration for the Calaveras High community as it wrestled with the Redskins mascot change, noting that students, staff and the public were always respectful of American Indian students on campus as the California Legislature made the school – one of four in the state – eliminate the time-honored mascot.
“It was our fifth time,” Merrill said of the fight to keep the mascot. “The kids understood.”
“Our students are really going to miss him,” Weatherby said Monday. “He really takes the time to get to know them and genuinely cares about each and every one of them as well as each staff member. I’m so sad that he is leaving us but happy for this opportunity for him. He is a great guy and I wish him all the best.”
“He is fantastically dedicated to his students and his staff,” Campbell said, “and he has a phenomenal work ethic and pure passion for his job.”
Those attributes played a role in Merrill’s selection for the Summerville post.
“We wanted someone who is committed to the students, families, staff and community of Summerville Union High School District,” Griffith and Richter said. “After a rigorous screening and interview process, Mr. Merrill was chosen as the best fit.”
“Based on the feedback received from our parents, staff and community members, we were looking for someone who is a collaborative, energetic leader who values our accomplishments and wants to continue our efforts to provide the quality education our students deserve and our families expect,” the release added.
“I will have to deal more with the budget management and all the legalese,” Merrill said of his new position.
Campbell said Merrill made it a point to know every student on the Calaveras campus, “greeting students with smiles and words (and inquiring about life issues and events).”
“Twenty-four years of dedicated service and fierce commitment to CUSD is a tremendous legacy of the selflessness and sacrifice necessary to make a difference for kids,” Campbell said. “He is focused on students and solutions, and face-to-face dialogue to address issues and provide supports.”
Merrill said that before school ended in June, a senior mentioned that she had Merrill as her principal at Valley Springs Elementary School when she was in kindergarten.
“We’re your last class of kids,” Merrill said the girl reminded him.
“I burst into tears,” Merrill admitted.
Merrill and his wife Rhonda, who teaches history at Calaveras High, live in Angels Camp. They have a grown son and daughter, both Calaveras alumni.
His one regret with the move is its timing.
“It all happened after school was out for the summer,” Merrill said, acknowledging the high emotions involved in sending an email to staff. “This has been a family for a lot of years and I didn’t get to say goodbye personally.”
But, he said, Summerville is part of the Mother Lode League, so Merrill will still get to see former students and co-workers.
“I appreciate the support over this quarter-century,” Merrill said. “Our kids are critical and we have to support them.
“This is just a great community that provided the start of a great career. I look forward to new opportunities.”