Shelby County Schools board of education Tuesday evening unanimously approved the buyout of Superintendent John Aitken, which was at his request.
Aitken's buyout is about $320,000 which goes into effect immediately. He will remain on as advisor until May 31.
"The toughest decision I have ever made in my life," Aitken told FOX13 News.
During the board meeting the 54-year-old received a standing ovation. His family was at his side. His wife, one of his daughters and his son-in-law were in attendance.
"It's not cool for them to come to board meetings," Aitken quipped.
He said the decision to remove himself as district superintendent was a personal and family decision.
"I have to thank the board," he said. "It was done at my request and I think the public needs to know that. You have to weigh some things in your life and have to make some personal decisions. When evaluating everything this was the best. I brought this to the board and asked for their consideration. I appreciate them."
The school board went into an executive session for about 45 minutes before rendering an unanimous decision.
Aitken's deal is similar to the one former Memphis city Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash received when his contract was bought out at the end of January.
"It is hard. I have been in the school system for 30 years," Aitken said. "Many of the principals and teachers and coaches I'm great friends with," Aitken added. "It's hard to leave that but after 30 years you just have to consider what's best for you and your family."
Aitken, named Tennessee Superintendent of the Year in 2012, has been leading the merger of the schools systems all while the school board was beginning a national search for a superintendent. He said conducting that search is now "water under the bridge."
The ongoing national search for a Unified superintendent did not weigh on his decision to step away from the school district.
"I'm not sure, right now. I have to soak it all in," he said. "I have to think about some things, evaluate and talk to family and take a few days to consider. But as I told the board in there when I thanked them and my staff and everybody out in the schools, I thank them so much."
The now former superintendent said he'll consider retirement, but there are six suburban municipalities who are hoping to start school districts soon that will be looking for a superintendent.
"I haven't even though about that," he said, "I've got to decompress. That's what's most important."
He said he has been very appreciative of the school district for a career that spanned three decades and has may cherished memories.
"You know what? I live here and I'm not going anywhere," Aitken said. "I'm so appreciative of what Shelby County Schools has done for me and my family because it has been a great career. I have got to spend some time over the weekend with some of my players I coached at Cairo High School in the late 1980s. That's what it's all about to me looking back at those memories. You have kids that are grown and kids of their own that are in high school and they call and say, 'Come on over coach! We're cooking and we want you to come visit.' That's the memories that I have and the memories that I cherish through the time. I'm going to be here and I'm going to see this thing through. It's a difficult work and it's taken its toll on all of us, particularly me. I just need to just move on."
Aitken said he has not yet been approached by any of the suburbs to lead their school districts, if they come to fruition.
His contract as Shelby County Schools superintendent was good through February 2015.