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Jamie Henderson, executive director of First 5 Kern.

Jamie Henderson, executive director of First 5 Kern, is retiring in March to make way for a new leader at the tobacco-tax funding agency.

Henderson, also a former superintendent of Rosedale Union School District, said he felt the timing was right to hand over the reins.

The agency, which distributes tobacco-tax money to programs that aid development of local children age zero to 5, is getting ready to solicit bids for another round of funding.

"I saw the value of me separating just prior to the beginning of that cycle," Henderson said.

He said he intends to look for other work but not full-time work.

"I spent 38 years in the education business," said Henderson, who has been with First 5 Kern since September 2010.

Henderson also said his years as a runner require him to have knee surgery and he didn't want to undergo the operation and recovery while on the job.

Larry Rhoades, a longtime Kern County administrator who ran First 5 Kern before Henderson and serves on the agency's governing board, said Henderson's work has been excellent.

"He's been solid as a rock. He's run many larger agencies. He had a good feel for what's needed and his heart's in the right place," Rhoades said. "We're thrilled with him. But we understand why he's going."

Henderson said he thinks the person who replaces him will need a couple of critical skills that have helped him succeed at First 5 Kern: good people skills and a "servant's heart."

"I really think you need to embrace those who you work with and work for," Henderson said.

And the leader who takes the job needs to want to truly be passionate about helping children grow and succeed, he said.

Applications for Henderson's replacement are being accepted now, with a deadline of the end of January.

He said the plan is to make a decision on his replacement by mid-February.

If an appropriate replacement is not found, he said, he has promised to stay with the agency until one can be hired.

Henderson said he is paid around $126,000 a year, plus a $595-a-month car allowance.

He said he declined Kern County bonus pays and health benefits and had a clause written into his contract that prevents him from being paid for any excess vacation he has not used by the end of his stint at the agency.