Dr. Ray R. Keech, the superintendent of Harford County schools since 1988, announced yesterday that he will retire from his $98,445-a-year job when his contract expires in June.
"I've been a superintendent for 26 years, and in education for 38 years," said the affable 59-year-old educator. "I'm tired."
Dr. Keech's wife, Wanda, died of cancer in April 1994, and, with his five grandchildren growing up, he said, "I realize that life is pretty short, and I just need some time to slow my motor down and have some time for myself."
Yesterday, Dr. Keech drew praise for his tenure, during which the school population grew from 27,000 to 38,000 students in slightly more than seven years.
Several supporters said Dr. Keech was able to secure about $49 million for six new elementary schools and one middle school at a time of severe state budget cuts.
"He has improved the school system," said Andre A. Fournier, the president of Harford County Council of PTAs. "He was instrumental in trying to get students to excel, in getting student test scores up to fourth in the state, which is what it is right now."
Mr. Fournier and others said Dr. Keech worked hard to forge good working relationships among the school board, county executive, County Council and the state delegation. As a result, each would send representatives to Annapolis to help him lobby for school construction funds.
"They all stood with me, and we all sang out of the same hymnal," Dr. Keech said yesterday.
"I think he tried to meet the needs of all students at all grade levels," said George D. Lisby, who began his tenure on the school board the same year Dr. Keech came to Harford.
"He tried to open up the school system so that parents and the community felt they were part of the school system."
School board President Anne H. Ober praised Dr. Keech's tenure and said he would play a role in selecting his successor.
Ms. Ober said the school board would meet soon privately to discuss how to begin its search for a new superintendent, but she promised a fairly open process, complete with public meetings.
A native of Michigan, Dr. Keech earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1958 and then a doctorate.
He was a classroom teacher for 10 years and a band leader before becoming an administrator.
He was school superintendent in Brighton and Bay City, Mich., before coming to Harford in July 1988. Two of his sons live in Harford and one in Boston. He doesn't plan on going back to Michigan.
He does plan on getting back to his music, which he gave up for lack of time.