Layoffs have wiped out the top three administrators at Payson High School, leaving in their wake agonized men, two of them having devoted nearly their entire careers to this close-knit district.
Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval and Assistant Principal Tim Fruth have each worked for the district for nearly three decades. The third laid off administrator, assistant principal and athletic director Jason Lobik, has been with the district since 2007. Lobik declined to be interviewed for this article.
“I think it’s disappointing,” Sandoval said of the board’s decision. “The process is crafted to minimize drama,” he added, although not necessarily in a good way.
“I can’t even explain the pain,” said Fruth, who was one year short of retirement.
Sandoval said he, too, is grieving the untimely end of his career with the Payson Unified School District.
“If I was going to be replaced, maybe it would be a little easier if the school was doing poorly,” Sandoval said. “But what the statistics say is it’s doing very well.”
Payson High School currently ranks as “highly performing,” and Sandoval said it sits on the cusp of earning the state’s “excelling” label, which he said is rare for a rural high school.
Both men have fallen victim to the 18 layoffs enacted to solve the district’s $1.2 million deficit.
All told, five administrators lost their jobs, nine teachers and four support staff.
Fruth’s contract was technically not renewed for non-disciplinary reasons. The board subsequently added the words “academic dean” to his title and will fill the spot with someone else.
Sandoval’s position was consolidated with another. Kathe Ketchem, now principal at Payson Center for Success, an alternative school for students unsuccessful in traditional high school, will head both her school and PHS.
Sandoval said he’s proud of changing the school’s culture and implementing order.
During Sandoval’s first year as high school principal, 21 fights broke out during the first nine weeks of school, Fruth recalled.
“We haven’t had 21 fights in the last three years combined,” Fruth said.
Sandoval, a PHS graduate, started with the district as a high school biology teacher. He’s coached wrestling, baseball and football.
After working in the district office as a curriculum coordinator, Sandoval then became principal of Payson Elementary School. In 2005, district officials asked him to head the high school.
A blunt leader unafraid of making unpopular decisions, Sandoval has earned both advocates and enemies.
Sandoval said he’s proud of engaging the principal’s advisory committee as they evolved into campus leaders and expanding available advanced placement classes.
He has also personally intervened with troubled students, meeting one-on-one with those failing multiple classes and calling parents of students who dropped out to find out why.
Fruth worked in the district as a business teacher, and an assistant principal at the middle school before taking his current position in 2004. He’s intimately tied to the community, and served a term on the town council. Going anywhere with Fruth requires patience; he knows nearly everyone who walks by and stops to talk.
A jokester with an inimitable personality, Fruth has advocated for special education students, and included those students in mainstream classes. He said the transition increased the self-esteem and achievement levels of special education students while reducing the stigma.
“I’m saddened I can’t see it through to the end,” Fruth said about his work improving the high school’s special education programs.
“That really cuts to the bone.”