Principals Picked Promptly

Administrators from Valley to fill top jobs at PHS and PES

Payson Unified School District Office - South entrance


Payson Unified School District Office - South entrance


Moving quickly to fill the vacant principal slots at Payson High School (PHS) and Payson Elementary School (PES), the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) has hired two Valley men.

James Brian Mabb, currently the principal at Paradise Valley High School, will step in as administrator at the high school.

Asa Watt-Hall, presently a program coach in the Lakeview Elementary School District, will head up PES next year.

Both men start their positions on July 1.

“The candidates we selected were the No. 1 candidates that fit the job descriptions,” said Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.

James Brian Mabb

Mabb has two master’s degrees, one in educational leadership and the other in bilingual and multicultural education.

Hitchcock said Mabb’s bilingual credentials impressed him.

“He reads, speaks and writes in Spanish,” said Hitchcock. “Currently we only have two resources in the district as translators.”

He said PUSD has a significant number of parents who don’t speak English. That creates complications when a translator has to help parents understand sensitive issues such as discipline.

Besides his bilingual skills, Mabb was awarded the National Association of Secondary School Principals/Arizona School Administrators Association Assistant Principal of the Year award in 2011-12.

Although he only has one year of experience as a high school principal, Hitchcock was impressed with Mabb’s resumé and his commitment to moving to the Rim Country, despite a pay cut.

“His family has a small ranch he has spent his summers visiting,” said Hitchcock, “He has wanted to move to Payson for awhile.”

Hitchcock said Mabb also has four children, three of which are old enough to attend PUSD.

Hitchcock said it’s important the new principal have a vested interest in coming to the Rim Country. In fact, Hitchcock said his first question to candidates was, “What attracted you to Payson?”

However, Hitchcock did not ask his questions alone. He said he used a new method to interview the principals, which the board had asked him to create.

In recent years, internal candidates have almost always won the slots, which has caused some to question the interview process.

“When I started, the board said they wanted to fix the hiring process because of the perception it was flawed,” he said.

He said in the future a committee that includes members of the community and district staff will make recommendations for new hires. The hiring committees for both principals included parents and PUSD staff from the Student Achievement Committee, Customer Service Committee, Parent Advisory Committee, Parent and Teacher Organization (PTO), School Site Committees, the Special Education Department and Principal Rob Varner.

“The interview team ensured integrity in the process,” said Director of Student Achievement Brenda Case, who chaired the committee that hired the PES principal.

Asa Watt-Hall

She said she and her committee were impressed that Watt-Hall is a Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBLES) Next trainer and has taught first grade.

“Asa taught first grade, has trained teachers, and is a DIBLES Next trainer,” she said, “He was raised in Vail, Ariz. and wanted an opportunity to return to a small town.”

She said Watt-Hall and his brother come up annually to Payson to attend the rodeo.

Some may be surprised by how quickly the district moved to hire new principals after the April 24 announcement of the administrative shift. Hitchcock and Case said things needed to be settled by May when contracts are given out at school districts around the state.

“It has to go fast,” said Case.

She said the process really began when the consultants, such as the Flippen Group and Case, the Department of Education and the auditor general submitted their reports at the beginning of the year.

However, it wasn’t until Case came on board in early April that the staffing ball really started rolling.

Hitchcock said at the district’s April 15 meeting, the board voted to approve a new staffing. On April 23 at the leadership meeting with all principals and directors, Hitchcock said he laid out the “new picture of leadership.”

The next day, the district posted the new principal positions. The positions closed on May 3 and the interviews were conducted on Saturday, May 4.

“The tumble was fast,” said Case. “Usually this is done in February and March.”

During the search for a new superintendent last year, school board members said they started early in the year to snap up the best candidates.

Case said she had lots of networking connections in the Valley she connected with to help spread the word on the open positions.


roysandoval 3 years, 8 months ago

It should be noted that this young man was a finalist for the PHS Principalship last year. He comes highly regarded. I for one am thankful he gave PHS a second chance and wish him all the best. I hope this young man brings some long term leadership after the last three years of tumult. Kudos to Superintendent Hitchcock for insisting on an analytical, competency based approach to choosing a leader.


H. Wm. Rhea III 3 years, 8 months ago

Not to nitpick, but were there no qualified persons already living in Payson who could've been considered?


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