LENOX -- The top job in the Lenox School District will be open as of June 30.

In a surprise development, Superintendent Edward W. Costa II has informed the School Committee that he plans to retire at the end of the school year. Costa, 55, will have completed four years in the district, but had two years left to run on his second three-year contract.

Costa told The Eagle on Wednesday that there was no catalyst nor any specific, significant events that triggered the decision. Instead, he explained, it was a lifestyle, personal-choice issue that he resolved with his wife, Jane, while on a vacation cruise last week.

"After much thought and prayer, I have decided to retire from the superintendency," Costa wrote to members of the School Committee this week. "After 27 years in the role of a school administrator, 19 of them as superintendent, I believe it is the right time for me."

"While I have truly enjoyed my four years with the town of Lenox and 33 years in public education," he stated, "other interests are calling me to transition at this time."

In the interview, Costa disclosed that he is in discussions for a position in the private sector, but declined to offer details pending the outcome of the talks.

"I am wrapping up my public service here with Lenox, which has been an incredibly good, very exciting four years," he said. Costa said he and his wife plan to continue living in town for the time being -- "it's a wonderful community," he said.

After informing the School Committee, his direct employers, Costa notified School Department administrators of his decision.

The sudden opening may have implications for Morris Elementary School Principal Timothy Lee, who has been pursuing superintendent openings since last fall, when he was a finalist in Northampton before the School Committee there decided to reopen its search.

Lee is now in a finalist for superintendent in the Belchertown and in the Greenfield districts. The Belchertown School Committee is expected to announce a decision on Thursday night.

In a brief interview, Lee -- who is certified as a superintendent -- described the timing as "unfortunate" but indicated that if neither of his out-of-town prospects work out, he would be interested in the local opening, in part to foster "a seamless transition" since he and Costa have been close collaborators.

In his letter to the School Committee, Costa offered his assistance in discussing a transition plan for the Lenox school system. "We currently have some very capable people on staff that you may be interested in," he wrote.

Costa emphasized that the demands of the ongoing, controversial strategic study of the school district's future, focusing on finances and school choice, did not play any role in his decision to step down.

"The entire strategic planning process so far has been incredibly exciting," he asserted. "If anything, it was adding confusion as to whether or not I would retire, so that's a positive."

Costa compared strategic planning to what actors say about being onstage: "Sometimes you feel like you're standing naked."

"You have to be willing to hear the good as well as the not-so-good and be willing to take constructive criticism," Costa said of the strategic planning discussions. "That's the only way an organization will get better. Whether or not the criticism is toward the superintendent or toward the district, that's the only way you move forward."

Acknowledging that "it's great to hear the accolades, and the community of Lenox has been incredibly supportive for me and for my family," Costa declared: "I appreciate this community so much and I appreciate the School Committee that has employed me not just for one contract but for a second contract."

"After 33 years in public service, my wife Jane and I made the final decision while we were on vacation, while we truly had time to talk about our lives," he explained.

"I don't want to work until I'm 70, money has never been an issue for me personally, so it's not any dissatisfaction with my salary or with my job, and it's certainly not my dissatisfaction with our school system." Costa's current annual salary is $115,000.

"If anything, all those things have been working against the decision I ultimately made," he said.

"There's a lot of work to be done, I'm very proud of what we as a school district have done in four years," Costa reflected. "But I realized it's time for me."

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo,com

or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto