The head of the Rockford Area Public Schools has resigned, saying "it's time" for him to leave.

Superintendent Michael Smith's last day will be June 30, when his contract expires.

Smith, who has led the western Twin Cities school district for five years, has worked as a Minnesota schools superintendent for 22 years.

His announcement Monday morning caught the school board by surprise, said Gordy Thomas, board chairman. Board members met in November to discuss Smith's contract and indicated they wanted to renew it for another two years.

"I'm disappointed to see Mike retire," Thomas said. "He's been an asset to the district and really helped us stabilize our finances and set us in a good direction."

Last fall voters approved the school district's first operating levy in five years.

In addition, the district's bond rating has jumped three grades, from a Baa1 rating in 2006 by Moody's to an A+ rating last fall by Standard and Poor's.

"The district is in better shape now than it was five years ago," Smith said.

The district, with about 1,500 students and about 100 certified staff, includes all or parts of Buffalo, Rockford, Greenfield and Corcoran.

Smith's resignation and the search for a new superintendent will be discussed Monday at the next Rockford school board meeting.

Thomas said the district will likely conduct a regional search, scouring the five-state area for candidates. "That's what we've done in the past," he said. "There are plenty of talented people out there."

Smith said he and his wife plan to move to Illinois, where his wife grew up and still has a family farm.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488