After serving as principal of three schools in the Mountain View Whisman district, Judy Crates has announced she plans to retire this summer, at the end of her fifth year leading Castro Elementary.
Crates, who began her career in education 41 years ago, has worked for the district for 16 years, and said she plans to use her retirement to spend more time with her family and to travel.
Parents and colleagues from the district spoke highly of Crates -- calling her a passionate educator, dedicated to continuous improvement.
"We're extremely grateful for Dr. Judy Crates' many years of service to the school district," MVWSD Superintendent Craig Goldman said, calling Crates both a "colleague and a friend," and saying that seeing her go is "bittersweet."
It's a sentiment shared by Crates, who said that she always wanted to teach at Castro from the moment she began working for the district. A fluent Spanish speaker with a lifelong interest in Hispanic culture, Crates said she wanted to be involved with the school's dual immersion program -- where students take classes taught in both Spanish and English.
A different breed
Crates said she is proud of what she has accomplished at Castro. When she came to Castro in 2008, the school's base Academic Performance Index score was 769. She leaves Castro having raised its API to 852 -- well above the statewide performance target of 800.
"She's had such an incredible impact on Castro," said Dara Tynefield, a Castro parent and six-year volunteer with the school's Dual Immersion program. "What she's achieved in the five years I've known her is nothing short of miraculous. It's hard to see her go."
Tynefield said she realized Crates was different just a few months into the principal's first year at Castro.
When Crates took over Castro, one of her first orders of business was to eliminate unnecessary activities, Tynefield recalled. The students had to make up ground in test performance, and that meant, as far as Crates was concerned, that the kindergartners would not be taking their regularly scheduled trip to the pumpkin patch. Crates called the fall field trip "ridiculous" and cut it without apology.
"That was a little intense," Tynefield said, remembering her reaction at the time.
But before too many parents could call out the new principal for being cruel to Castro's youngest students, Crates ordered a truckload of pumpkins to fill the school parking lot and let the kindergartners choose their own orange gourd without ever leaving the campus -- so long as they conducted a few measurements first. Thus, Crates ensured her students would take home a little bit of science and math knowledge along with some seasonal cheer.
It was the "best pumpkin patch ever," Tynefield said. With gestures like the parking lot pumpkin patch -- and the various costumes, like the gorilla and chicken suits the principal would wear to get her students pumped up about reading -- Crates set her self apart from the pack, and earned the adulation of the students and the respect of parents and teachers, Tynefield said. "The proof is in the API scores."
Born to teach
Crates was born and raised in Kenosha, Wis. -- a Lake Michigan town between Milwaukee and Chicago. The first in her family to graduate from college, Crates began her career in education teaching Spanish. She bounced around the East Coast and Midwest, before moving to the Bay Area in 1980 after her husband took a job at Stanford.
After settling down in Silicon Valley, Crates began working in Redwood City. From 1982 to 1995 she took on a variety of positions -- including serving as Garfield Charter School's founding director and vice principal at Kennedy Middle School.
In 1997 she took the job of principal at Bubb Elementary, where she worked for four years before moving on to serve as principal of Graham Middle School for another four years. After that, she took a position in the MVWSD central office, before making the move to Castro.
Along the way Crates had two children -- a son and a daughter. Her son died at age 22. Her daughter, who is now 37, has two young children of her own.
An eye to the future
"Judy Crates is basically an icon at Castro," said Christine Roper, president of the Castro PTA, pointing to Crates' management of both the Dual Immersion and traditional track programs. According to Roper, Crates is essentially overseeing two schools under one roof. "For the last five years she's done an incredible job on her own managing both those programs."
Though it will be hard for Crates to say goodby to the school and the program she has loved so much, she insists that she doesn't think of it as "leaving."
"I'm not leaving anything," she said. "I'm going to something."
Namely, she plans to visit her grandchildren and daughter, along with her daughter's husband, who will be coming up to see her this summer. She also plans to travel -- likely to Barcelona, where her daughter's family resides. "I have something different that I want to do with my time, while I'm still able to be the energetic, optimistic grandma for my grandchildren."
Crates said she wants the Castro community to know that she has loved the time she has had at the school -- "I can't think of a better place to end my career" -- and that she has high hopes for what the future will bring. Castro, she said, is going to "keep moving forward."