On July 1, an era will end: After 41 years in education, Payson High School Principal Kathe Ketchem will retire.
Family is her primary reason for retiring, said her husband John.
She will not be alone in her retirement, director of Career Technical Education Wendell Stevens, guidance counselor Judy Michel, and Payson Center for Success math teacher Dan Alm will all retire at the end of the year.
The flurry of retirements touched off rumors among the faculty that the district may move to a fresh round of layoffs, in anticipation of added state budget cuts and the impact of declining enrollment.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien denied the rumors and lamented Ketchem’s retirement. O’Brien himself will retire at the end of the year. He promoted Ketchem to principal for the current school year, after layoffs in the spring of 2010 reached to include both PHS principal Roy Sandoval and vice principal Tim Fruth.
Ketchem’s brief term was marked by a struggle to cope with budget cuts, completion of a fence to increase campus security and challenges in adapting to new state requirements and faltering standardized test scores.
But she cited the family demands in her decision to quit.
“Her mother lives with us and our daughter is in the Navy,” said John Ketchem, “She will be deployed soon — we don’t know where — and we have two grandchildren.”
The Ketchems’ daughter lives in San Diego with her husband, their 3-year-old daughter and 13-year-old step-grandson.
Both Kathe and her husband John have spent more than 30 years working for the Payson, Pine and Tonto Basin school districts.
“I started working at the Pine School as a kindergarten teacher in 1977,” said Kathe. She taught there for 21 years, then spent six years as the principal and superintendent.
Her husband John worked at the Tonto Basin school as the principal and superintendent, overseeing the remodel of the school without incurring any debt or passing a bond. John retired last year and now works as a substitute teacher in the Payson district as well as volunteering his time.
“Her retirement is not entirely a surprise,” said O’Brien.
He knew of her intentions to leave a couple of months ago, but didn’t want to say anything to the staff in the hopes she might change her mind. But she did not, announcing to the high school staff on Wednesday she will retire at the end of the school year.
O’Brien said the whole town knows Kathe. When he went out with Kathe, it was nearly impossible to walk through town without one of her former students, or a parent of a former student stopping to talk to her.
“Some were students of hers that became parents and now have students,” said O’Brien.
Kathe said in her 41 years of experience, she has taught all grades from kindergarten to grade 12. She has also taught teacher education courses at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Arizona State University (ASU).
“Some of the teachers teaching now, took their teacher education courses from me,” said Kathe.
Peggy Owens, a math teacher at PHS said of Kathe’s retirement, “I disapprove! She’s been extremely supportive and will be greatly missed.”