A former military pilot, Casey O'Brien, was selected to be the next superintendent of the Payson Unified School District.
While the Payson School Board made its decision on Saturday, it was officially announced at a Monday meeting following a short executive session.
After being introduced as the next superintendent for the district, people in the audience applauded, and then greeted the new school leader while the board went into another executive session.
O'Brien served as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Nogales School District for the 2005-2006 school year. He took leave during the current school year for personal family reasons that were not disclosed.
"The Payson district is getting a quality individual," said O'Brien's former boss Guillermo Zamudio, superintendent of the Nogales School District. "Kids are his main focus. Payson will benefit from that."
O'Brien said he and his wife, Priscilla, had been looking for a small rural town where he could become a superintendent.
"It's a great community with excellent schools, and my expectations are that things will only get better," he said after the board officially named him to replace the retiring Sue Myers.
When notified Saturday that he had the job, O'Brien said he was a little shocked, but in a good way. "I was not expecting to know so soon," he said. "It's a career goal."
O'Brien, who lives in Elgin, a community close to Sierra Vista, will take over as superintendent July 1. He said he will be coming to Payson for board meetings and other matters, as necessary.
"Anytime you go anywhere it's a learning curve," O'Brien said, adding that he spent as much time as possible researching the Payson district from afar.
O'Brien said he was a military pilot for eight years before changing his career to education.
"I originally wanted to be a teacher," he said, adding that he kept moving up the education ladder as his career progressed.
The newly selected superintendent said he is relatively new to the administration side of education as he was only the assistant superintendent in Nogales for one year.
"That was enough for me to know I wanted to become a boss," he said, tongue-in-cheek.
He said Payson is where he wants to retire, and added that he and his wife will be moving to be in, or close to, Payson.
O'Brien said the interview process was taxing, but admitted he knew the format beforehand so there were really no surprises.
"It was an extremely valuable lesson," he said of the interviews, which allowed him to spend time in the community.
School Board President Viki Holmes said the district had just completed an exhaustive search for a new superintendent.
Holmes said she thinks O'Brien possesses the qualities that will lead the district into the future.
Speaking to staff and parents after being introduced, O'Brien thanked the school board, adding that he was impressed with the other three finalists.
"This is truly an honor," he said. "I will try my best to be the best superintendent possible."
Board member Randy Huff thanked the community for helping the board in the superintendent hiring process.
The other three finalists were PHS Principal Roy Sandoval, Don Clark and Michael Melton.