Payson High School Principal Phil Gille is retiring at the age of 55 -- so he can take a full-time job.
It's not that being a high school principal isn't a full-time job. In fact, that's one of the reasons he's stepping down after 14 years -- the longest tenure ever for a school administrator in the Payson Unified School District.
"I attribute that to hardheadedness," he said. "Actually, I like my job here and I'd like to stay but I have to go to 66 with the insurance and all, and with all the nights it's hard," he said.
"I get called at 2:00 in the morning -- a bus broke down. I have to find someone to solve the problem. That's what I get paid for."
Next fall will find Gille in Cuthbert, Ga., where he will teach math at Andrews College.
"It's a very small Methodist college with maybe 400 or 500 students," he said.
Getting back into the classroom is something Gille is looking forward to, especially at the college level.
"I don't mind teaching at any level, but it is fun to teach people who work hard," he said.
Gille has been in education for 30 years, a journey that began in Evanston, Wyo. and included nine years in Australia.
"I was single and my roommate wanted to travel over there," he said. "I liked it a lot. People are so warm and gregarious. In fact we would have stayed except for missing our families."
After returning from Australia, Gille taught for a while in a Chicago suburb, then became an assistant principal at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale. He and wife Bonita, a reading teacher at Payson Elementary School, moved to Payson to raise their children.
"Raising children is so important, and it's the community that raises them," Gille said. "You go in the big city and the community is lost.
"We looked around the state and there were only two communities that stood out."
Gille can't say enough about the students who attend PHS."I wish more people would walk across this campus and see how nice these kids are," he said. "They're pretty exceptional, and I don't think the town realizes what a gem they have here."
Gille feels equally strong about his teachers.
"Most of the places I've been you could count the master teachers on one hand," he said. "Here, it's just the reverse."
But even in Payson, serving as high school principal for 14 years has produced some trying moments. One of the most trying -- having to fire a very popular assistant principal -- Gille now counts among his greatest accomplishments.
"The first two years I was here I tried to work with him, and it didn't work, so the third year I had to get rid of him," Gille said. "The campus was out of control. There were fights every day and things like that. But he was loved by the community and the students.
"When I fired him the entire student body went on strike and picketed -- there were 300 students back then -- and it made the papers all over the state.
"It was probably the toughest thing I had to do, but we had to get the campus under control. Eight or 10 years later, people have come back and said they didn't understand what I was doing at the time, but now they know it was the right thing."
Gille is also proud of his role in getting PHS test scores above the norm.
"Out math scores were at the 30th percentile and that was a real concern," he said. "They actually suggested four years of math to get them up.
"But we got them up over the state and national average by working with the vocational teachers and everybody -- making sure math was taught throughout the curriculum and kind of letting the math department do what they needed to do. We've been doing the same thing attacking reading, and we've made improvements in both those areas -- but I'm still not satisfied."
Offered the opportunity to give advice to his yet-to-be-named successor, to parents and to PHS students, here's what he said.
"I probably wouldn't give him any advice. The guy who I replaced, Tommy Meck, worked with me for a month or so and taught me how to budget, how to hire, how to do all the things you have to do -- requisitions, prepare for the following school year -- but he never gave me any advice and I couldn't understand that.
"Now that I'm in the same shoes, I understand. Those are things that a person has to work out. How to do things is what you tell them, but they need to work out their own leadership style."
"Be involved in your children's education, not in the way of being in the PTA, but in the way of being in contact with their teachers, making sure their children don't miss school, helping them with their reading when they're younger, their spelling."
"Follow the pillars of Character Counts. If you have character -- integrity and honesty and all those virtues that we're trying to teach -- it really doesn't matter if they know any chemistry or math or English."
Gille has acquired some bumps and bruises over the years, his latest is a broken thumb from playing basketball with students during the lunch hour.
"I was working with this one kid on not hacking," he said. "You can see how much I succeeded."
But over all, it's been a great run -- one that he wouldn't trade for anything.
"It's hard to leave the community, and I can speak for my wife, because this is the neatest place we've ever worked," he said. "People are so wonderful, so sincere, so supportive.
"Whenever you need help you don't have to reach out. People reach out to you."