Just 2½ years after taking the helm of the Frontier Central School District, one of the area’s largest suburban school systems, Superintendent James C. Bodziak has decided to step down.

Bodziak – in the middle of his contract originally set to expire in February 2016 – announced his resignation at Tuesday night’s meeting of the School Board and said he will retire.

His announcement caught many by surprise, including board President Janet MacGregor Plarr, who announced the personnel matter as a late addition to the agenda.

Bodziak, 61, the self-described “elder statesman” in local school superintendent circles, succinctly spoke to his retirement decision in a brief statement after the board unanimously approved the motion and board members thanked him for his service to the district.

In typical Bodziak style – he often cited philosophical quotations during his tenure and particularly budget messages – Bodziak spoke to his decision by referencing an ancient Chinese proverb by philosopher Laozi.

“An ancient Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My first step as an educator began in 1973, when I was hired as an elementary teacher,” Bodziak said, his voice beginning to crack and noting that he told his wife, Diane, he “wouldn’t” choke up. “Forty years later, my journey ends in this very fine school district.”

Already, the School Board was meeting in executive session late Tuesday tied to the search for a new superintendent. Plarr’s annoucement of a personnel and contractual items to be added to the executive session agenda were directly related to Bodziak’s decision to retire.

Plarr, in her 20th year on the board and having worked with six superintendents, later said she was surprised by Bodziak’s decision and did not expect to be looking for a new leader so soon. She also said that a new superintendent would not be named by the start of school in September, but likely that an interim leader instead would be in place as Bodziak prepares to depart.

“We want someone who can take the district to the next level,” Plarr said of the board’s intentions.

The news of Bodziak’s retirement, effective Sept. 9, came during what was probably one of the board’s shortest business sessions ever, well under an hour, including the reorganization meeting. The session was sparsely attended, in stark contrast to recent board meetings that have been dominated by mounting frustrations by staff and parents about unpopular job cuts that came as part of the budget ax but some of which may still be restored by fall.

Bodziak’s announcement now means that Frontier joins the Hamburg Central School District in both searching for new leaders and beginning superintendent searches. In late June, Hamburg School Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch – who presided over turbulent times in that district – submitted his resignation and the district has since cut ties with him and its lawyers.

Bodziak was considered a top grab for Frontier when it hired him away from the East Aurora School District in early 2011. At a current salary of $189,000, Bodziak succeeded Ronald G. DeCarli, who retired in September 2010. Vincent J. Coppola had been serving as Frontier’s interim superintendent and search consultant until Bodziak began at Frontier.

Tuesday’s board meeting was the first one for the now seven-member board, which was downsized from nine members through a public vote a year ago to eliminate two board seats.