José Torres is stepping down as superintendent of Elgin Area School District U-46 to become the president of Aurora-based Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
Torres could not be reached for comment but sent an email statement to district employees Friday morning.
"It was a difficult decision to make," he wrote. "Serving you as superintendent the past six years has been one of the most rewarding periods of my life."
Torres said he is working with the school board to determine his last day on the job and "to ensure that we have a smooth transition and that the school year gets off to a great start."
U-46 school board President Donna Smith in an emailed statement thanked Torres for his service.
"The board would like to thank Dr. José Torres for his six years of service to the 40,000 U-46 students, our staff, and our 11 communities," she said. "In the coming weeks, the board will determine how it will proceed with selecting a leader who can keep our district moving in the right direction, ensure consistency in our leadership, and provide stability across our district."
The board will discuss a succession plan at its meeting Monday.
Torres was named superintendent in 2008 after serving as regional superintendent at Chicago Public Schools. He also has worked in school districts in California, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Torres' contract is set to expire June 30, 2016. His U-46 salary and benefits package amounts to roughly $292,000. Details about Torres' salary and perks with IMSA were not immediately available.
His departure comes at a critical time as the Elgin Teachers Association is negotiating its contract, which expires Aug. 18, said union President Kathy Castle.
"We are in the middle of trying to ratify a tentative agreement on the teacher's contract," Castle said. "There's a lot going on with the start of the school year: new teacher orientation, and we're hiring between 130 and 150 teachers."
Castle said though the union membership hasn't always been in agreement with Torres' decisions, his efforts toward bridging the communication gap among parents and the community were appreciated.
"He did a good job of reaching out to our diverse community and creating increased involvement with the community and parents," she said. "The ETA wishes him well in this new path he has chosen. We appreciate his service to the U-46 school community. We recognize that he brought some significant changes to the district."
Torres is not without his critics.
Former school board member Frank Napolitano, who resigned in March, said Torres has implemented some controversial ideas whose results are yet unknown.
"The district just finished the first year under the new grading scale, and no one knows what the long-term effects of this will be on the actual test results and college readiness for the students," Napolitano said. "Many experts, including several very well-respected teachers, believe this grading scale that Dr. Torres fought for will have adverse effects on the students' learning, although it will artificially inflate their grades in the short term."
Torres floated a proposal in March to not require reading classes for all middle school students starting next school year, which could have affected staffing.
The idea drew criticism from dozens of parents, students and teachers who railed against the proposed changes at a March school board meeting. District officials ultimately decided to leave the program as is, for now.
"Although there are plenty of bright spots, wonderful teachers and fantastic students, the district is nowhere near the results promised by Dr. Torres in the Destination 2015 promise," Napolitano added.
Destination 2015 is an ambitious, five-year plan for student achievement and financial stability.
Torres was selected as IMSA's fourth president after a national search.
He told IMSA leadership he is drawn to the academy's mission statement, which matches his personal passion and commitment "to end poverty."
"I believe this can only be accomplished if we have excellent, equitable education and learning systems for academically talented students and for all students," Torres said in a news release.
The state-funded boarding school draws a diverse student population from throughout the state. Torres' accomplishments with U-46 make him "an ideal leader to further attract and educate multicultural students," officials said.
"From a strong candidate pool, Dr. Torres emerged as our clear choice," IMSA board Chairman Sheila Griffin said. "Our board was impressed by his intellectual curiosity, commitment to excellence and equity, entrepreneurial mindset, and candor and authenticity. We look forward to collaborating with him to develop and help others develop world-class diverse talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to benefit Illinois and advance the human condition here in Illinois, nationally and globally."
The IMSA board will vote on hiring Torres at its Aug. 20 meeting. Torres is expected to start there in September. He replaces Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Glenn W. "Max" McGee retired last summer.
McGee made $232,000 in the 2012 calendar year. He was paid more than $123,000 in his last six months of employment -- January through June 2013 -- according to the state comptroller's website.
Torres has served in various leadership roles, including regional superintendent/area instruction officer in Chicago Public Schools, and as the only superintendent on the Federal Equity and Excellence Commission of the United States Department of Education.
Earlier this year, Torres was one of three educators nationwide to receive the 2014 Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award from the AASA, the school superintendents association.
Torres was recognized for addressing persistent gaps in achievement by establishing an office of Equity and Social Justice, the first of its kind at U-46. He also created the Ten Boys mentorship initiative and the Superintendent Scholarship Program, donating his own funds to provide financial assistance for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Torres was named board chairman of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce in January.
"Unfortunately, he's going to have to step down. That is one of the standing positions on our board, held for the superintendent of U-46," chamber President Carol Gieske said.
Gieske said Torres brought the business and educational communities together in collaborative partnerships and "stressed the importance of students being career ready."
"José recognized economic development, which is what we deliver in our Elgin Development Group public-private partnership, is critical for Elgin's growth and how significant education is to workforce development," she said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.