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FARMINGTON — The superintendent for the Department of Diné Education has announced his retirement after leading the agency for close to five years.

Tommy Lewis Jr. submitted a letter of resignation on Oct. 24 to the Navajo Nation Board of Education and will retire on Nov. 15, according to a Nov. 4 press release from the department.

He explained in the release that he has reached retirement age – after working 43 years in education in various capacities – and plans to focus on family and move back to Flagstaff, Arizona.

A day after the education department issued its press release, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors in Arizona announced that Lewis was selected as the county's superintendent of schools.

The release posted on the county government website states that Lewis will start work on Nov. 18 and his term runs through Dec. 31, 2020.

Lewis said in a telephone interview that he had been contemplating retirement this year because he wants to be with his family in Flagstaff.

He added the job opportunity with the county came up "suddenly," but it allows him to remain working in education and closer to home.

"I made the right decision to move on and to move back home," he said.

The county superintendent of schools is an elected office and it would be his decision whether to file as a candidate in next year's election.

Lewis said he will miss the staff in Window Rock, Arizona, and he believes they will continue to advance education standards.

The tribe's board of education recommended to the Navajo Nation Council in July 2014 that Lewis serve as superintendent. The council confirmed his appointment in November 2014 and he began working in January 2015.

He previously served as superintendent for the department from July 2006 to July 2007.

Among his responsibilities was managing 260 schools located on and near the reservation, supervising 920 employees within the department and serving on the Diné College Board of Regents.

Board President Greg Bigman said Lewis is passionate about education and his insight helped develop and guide the college.

Bigman credits Lewis with advocating for $1 million from the State of Arizona for remedial education, helping start the Diné College Foundation, protecting tribal sovereignty and remaining committed to addressing the shortage of K through 12 teachers.

"He was a good regent and set high standards for us," Bigman said.

Timothy Benally, assistant superintendent for the tribe's education department, will serve as interim superintendent.

"I have a lot of confidence in his ability," Lewis said.

The tribe's board of education "is expected to take formal action" on Lewis' resignation at a meeting on Nov. 8, the education department release states.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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