Surrounded by fellow school board members, Corbett Lawler thought the end of Tuesday’s workshop meeting was just like any other closed session.
So, when Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Robert Muller asked the deputy and assistant superintendents to leave the room, Lawler assumed Muller wanted to ask the board about his contract or evaluation.
But he didn’t. Instead, one-by-one, Muller handed each board member a piece of paper.
“I got mine, and it started with, ‘Please accept my resignation,’ and I looked to the bottom and saw his signature,” Lawler said. “I was taken completely by surprise. ... I was at a loss for words there.”
Muller’s resignation is effective Aug. 31.
Although board member JoAnn Purser said the board was “blindsided” by the superintendent’s sudden announcement Tuesday, she’s happy Muller accepted a position as a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University in College Station.
“His integrity by far exceeds more than any of us ever could have wished for within the district and the community,” Purser said. “The legacy he leaves behind and the leadership he’s put in place — our children all benefit from that.”
In the “ever-changing” field of education, Lawler said Muller never lost touch with the staff he serves.
He said Muller’s analytical skills allow him to effectively manage the district’s resources.
“He can take any issue and give you the pros and cons of every bit of it. He uses it to help prepare us to make decisions,” Lawler said.
“He can be very objective. He can separate his own emotions.”
Although Muller is moving on, Kenneth Ray said he hopes the two remain friends.
“I truly respect the man. He’s extremely intelligent. He doesn’t seem to have any kind of temper at all and that makes working with him just a pleasure,” said Ray, whose term expires in May. “He’s one of those people that you appreciate having walked through your life and you don’t find many like him. I’ll always treasure (having) the chance to work with him.”
When the superintendent was hired in 2008, Lawler remembers telling Muller that he’s “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Lawler said Muller added to the legacy of “what those great men have done,” and hopes the new superintendent does the same.
“That’s another challenge for us — who will take his place,” Lawler said. “I think we’ll want to take a good look at (Deputy Superintendent John) Craft.”
Board Vice President Terry Delano said it’s always hard to find a superintendent that fits the district. He said he’s looking for a superintendent who has a record of student achievement and good fiscal responsibility.
Delano anticipates the board will consider internal and external candidates.
“You have to do both. I believe it’d be a mistake just to look at one or the other,” Delano said.
“We’ll put the information out there and see who applies and see what we get from around the state.”
Since “the life of a superintendent is not forever,” Ray said he wasn’t surprised that Muller — a “young guy” with lots of goals in life — is moving his career in the direction he wants to. Especially considering the pressure of being superintendent, Ray said.
“Five or six years I guess is pretty much what everybody expects. ... That kind of weight wears on you. It tires you out,” Ray said. “At some point you have to have some relief. It takes a unique person to go as long as he has in a very demanding job.”
While no one is indispensable, Muller’s expertise will be hard to replace, Ray said.
“I’m confident while we won’t be able to replace him exactly, he’s given us some qualities that we’ll seek in the next superintendent,” Ray said.
Board members Susan Jones and Minerva Trujillo did not respond for comment by Wednesday afternoon.