After leading New Haven Public Schools for 21 years, Superintendent Reginald Mayo announced Wednesday night that he will step down at the end of the school year.

Reports of the superintendent’s planned retirement surfaced in January when City Clerk Ron Smith told the News that Mayo had said he would retire from his position on June 30. Though Mayo declined to comment at the time, Smith said the decision was due to personal reasons.

Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of both Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale University President Richard Levin’s decisions to step down from their respective positions, DeStefano at the end of his 10th term in office and Levin at the end of the academic year. At DeStefano’s announcement ceremony, Smith told the News that Mayo’s decision was linked to DeStefano’s, noting the extent of the two men’s personal sacrifice for the city.

All three leaders have been instrumental in creating the School Change Initiative in New Haven, which has been praised nationwide as a model for school reform. Beyond jump-starting the initiative in 2010, Mayo has helped build the largest interdistrict magnet school program in the state of Connecticut, extend school days for kindergartners and rebuild all 37 schools in the New Haven Public School district.

Mayo has been involved in city education for over four decades, starting out as a science teacher at Troup Middle School before attaining various administrative positions. Now, nearly half a century later, Mayo said his tenure as superintendent has run its course.

“If I wait for the day to come when I no longer love overseeing this school district and looking out for the 21,000 public school children we serve, I might never retire,” Mayo said in a Wednesday statement. “However, after 46 years of service to New Haven Public Schools, including the last 21 years as your superintendent, it is time for me to move on.”

Following the announcement, city officials emphasized the legacy Mayo will leave behind when he steps down at the end of June.

In a statement Wednesday, New Haven Board of Education President Carlos Torre praised Mayo’s accomplishments during his two decades as superintendent and said the board will begin the process of selecting his replacement at a meeting on Monday, Feb. 25. A new superintendent is slated to be appointed by July 1, Torre said, after a search committee organized by the board gathers input from parents, students, teachers and principals. One likely choice to succeed Mayo is Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries ’95, at the very least in an interim position. Harries was appointed in 2009 and has overseen much of the school change effort.

Amid ongoing debate over revision of the city’s charter, a number of lawmakers are questioning the mayor’s exclusive power to appoint members of the school board, a debate that could bear on Harries’ potential appointment because board members manage the search committee process. Mayoral candidate and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 has come out in support of a hybrid school board — with some appointed members and some elected members — as has his opponent, Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield. In announcing his candidacy at the end of January, Holder-Winfield specifically stressed the need for a thorough search process for a new superintendent, saying “[Harries] may be that person, but he may not be.”

Wilbur Cross High School Principal Peggy A. Moore said Mayo has been an “outstanding leader.” She declined to say whether she supports Harries as Mayo’s replacement, but lauded Harries’ “vision” as assistant superintendent.

“Whether or not he’s the person to lead the district, I don’t know,” she said. “We need to see if he’s the right fit for what the district needs right now.”

Moore said numerous issues need to be addressed by the next superintendent, such as English language learning and better recruitment of teachers.

DeStefano said in a Wednesday email to the News that Mayo was instrumental in resolving hostile budget disputes between the city and the school district when he began as superintendent over 21 years ago.

“He provided stability and meaningful change,” he added. “The New Haven School Change Initiative is a national model that focuses on student achievement and matriculation into and success in college.”

Mayo was first appointed as superintendent in 1992, the year before DeStefano was first elected.