Hoping to provide a seamless transition, the Payson School Board hired Ron Hitchcock as the new superintendent after a three-month search on Saturday, March 31.
“I’d like for people to say that a year from now, they didn’t even notice a ripple when Casey left,” said Hitchcock, the former superintendent of the Multnomah Education Service District in Oregon.
Hitchcock resigned that position in February and moved to Arizona to help care for a sick relative in Cave Creek.
Back in Oregon he has also served as a council member and mayor pro-tem of Mapleton, Oregon in the early 1990s.
The school board spent half the day on Saturday locked in executive session, after hosting a community forum on Friday evening with five finalists to solicit comments.
After sifting through the community comments and discussing each candidate, the board members emerged Saturday evening to announce their choice.
“It was long and tense,” said school board chair Barbara Underwood, “It was a good competition — that makes it stressful.”
The other candidates included Dr. Tim Creal, Paul Roads, Cathy Egolf and Karin Ward, the superintendent of the Beaver Creek School District and the only finalist from Arizona.
The Payson board members agreed Hitchcock would provide a smooth transition and carry through the policies of outgoing Superintendent Casey O’Brien and Hitchcock cited the board’s positive relationship with the superintendent as a big reason he wanted the job.
School board member Rory Huff also sat through O’Brien’s hiring process. He said the number and quality of candidates this time made the choice tough, but Hitchcock kept rising to the top.
“We had a lot more candidates,” said Huff, “All had excellent qualifications, but he was the only one I felt had the knowledge to take over and hit the ground running.”
Underwood agreed that Hitchcock has a lot of experience.
“We did come to a consensus (in executive session) and he’s our choice,” said chair Barbara Underwood. “He has a lot of superintendent experience.”
Hitchcock held his last position in Oregon in the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD), which assists more than 92,000 students. The MESD provides all of the business needs of the school district.
“He would have been more like a Linda O’Dell,” said Underwood, describing Hitchcock’s Oregon position.
O’Dell serves as Gila County superintendent of schools and her office mostly provides services to unified school districts in the county.
Asked why he chose Payson, Hitchcock provocatively answered that he met the love of his life in Payson.
He then explained his comments, saying that he met his wife while he worked as a principal for Payson High School in Utah.
Hitchcock said the two Paysons have much in common. Both are rodeo towns, both are at the same elevation, and both have excellent outdoor recreation opportunities.
He moved to Arizona before applying for the position in Payson to make sure “we’ll be happy where we move.”
Asked why he wanted the job given the challenges facing the district, Hitchcock replied he wanted to fan the flames of what is already good in Payson.
“I want to piggy back on the good work already done at this district,” said Hitchcock.
Throughout the intensive two-day interview process, Hitchcock closely watched how the board and community interacted with O’Brien and saw the respect the superintendent received.
He also saw that O’Brien had voluntarily decided to leave.
“I had applied to four other school districts,” said Hitchcock. “The superintendents from the other schools had not had their contracts renewed.”
He understood those other school boards were dissatisfied with their superintendents. Hitchcock could see O’Brien had created stability that he wants to continue.