Former Payson High School Athletic Secretary Stephanie Shields’ abrupt and calculating dismissal is both baffling and bone chilling.
One week ago, just 15 minutes before quitting time, PHS principal Kathe Ketchem told Shields she was being let go and gave no reasons for the abrupt firing.
Shields, a 2-1/2-year employee of the district and a single mother of three, was not offered a job at another district school.
PUSD superintendent Casey O’Brien has refused to discuss Shields’ firing, saying only it was a recommendation made by Ketchem and supported by him.
Perhaps coincidentally, this reporter wrote a feature story about Shields in the Aug. 20 edition of the Payson Roundup.
Immediately after the story hit the streets, O’Brien and new PHS athletic director Rob Varner spoke to her about it in school offices.
O’Brien said in an e-mail to the Payson Roundup the two only wanted to congratulate her on the story.
Shields, however, said she felt uncomfortable when the two administrators approached her.
She has called their “compliments” backhanded and said Varner told her to tell this reporter to “start coming to me” and to “tell Max to stop living in the past.”
The reason I wrote the feature, which was complimentary about Shields, is because in the course of my job as a sports reporter, I had come to respect and admire the way she handled her work duties at the school.
I’ve also crossed paths with many others who look up to Shields for her efficiency, helpfulness and knowledge.
Floyd Simmons of Sports Zone magazine and a radio sports personality in the White Mountains has called Shields “a gem,” saying she went out of her way to help visitors.
Athletic directors from other schools have also been quick to praise Shields, as have former PHS principal Roy Sandoval, former assistant principal Tim Fruth and ex-athletic director Jason Lobik.
As a public school teacher and coach for 37 years, I came across many athletic secretaries — some of them good and some not so good.
In watching Shields at work, I couldn’t help but admire the friendly and helpful way she went about her job, whether it involved coaches, parents or student athletes.
In fact, I once commented to a Payson High School coach, “where were AD secretaries like Stephanie when I was coaching?”
Valuing what Shields accomplished at PHS for the minimal pay she was receiving, I went about penning the feature about her. In researching it, I didn’t receive a single negative comment from those who had crossed paths with Shields.
That makes her dismissal even more mysterious and mystifying.
Were I and the others I spoke to about Shields off base? Somehow wrong about her? I think not.
Shields was the final holdover from the former administration.
There has been a clean sweep in the high school office — not a single employee was there last school year.
Connect the complete revamping of the PHS office staff with former school board member Richard Meyer’s admission to Roundup reporter Suzanne Jacobson that he ran for the position to get rid of Sandoval and it’s hard to argue with those who contend there was a conspiracy occurring.
It’s painfully obvious Shields was done an injustice by an administration and at least one board member seemingly bent on a vendetta.
Which means Shields is due a public apology and, at the very least, a job at another school.
It’s the right thing to do.