Thursday, January 12, 2012

PUSD Superintendent O'Brien retiring


Casey O'Brien (left) will announce his retirement next Tuesday, concluding a five-year stint as PUSD superintendent.  (Courtesy photo.)

By Jim Keyworth
Gazette Blog Editor

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien will announce his retirement at a school board meeting next Tuesday.  His last day on the job will be June 30.

O’Brien, who is almost 56, has spent 22 years in education.  After serving 8 years as a Navy pilot, he started teaching in the inner city in San Diego.  Other stints included teaching on a reservation, in Flagstaff, Fort Huachuca, St. David, and Nogales.  He has served as PUSD superintendent for five years. 

“The progression went from teaching, to assistant principal, to principal, to assistant superintendent and then superintendent, so I feel very fortunate to have had a lot of experiences in a lot of great locations,” O’Brien said.  “Payson has been great.  The community has been so supportive, and this is the best staff I’ve had a chance to work with.”

O’Brien notified the school board last week when he met with them to talk about a contract extension.  He said the board understood his decision and appreciated the lead time they will have to find a successor.  At the meeting next Tuesday, the board will decide how to proceed in that process.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with Casey:

GAZETTE: So nothing could change your mind, even an offer from a larger district?

CASEY: No, because I went down that road being a finalist (last year) and I’ve been contacted by a couple of big districts this year, but that’s not who I am.   Priscilla and I grew up in smaller rural communities, I’ve worked largely in rural communities, our house that we’ve built (near Sonoita in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains) is in a very rural setting.  I’m glad that (job opportunity) didn’t work out.  I’m very glad to have been in Payson and have that experience and finish my career here.

GAZETTE: So there’s nothing that happened here or conditions here that made you do this sooner than you would have otherwise?

CASEY: No.  Not here.  We’re just fortunate both of our parents are alive and kicking and doing pretty well, but they’re also getting up there past their mid-80s.  They live in the southern part of the state as well and we can spend some time with them.

GAZETTE: What advice would you give to your successor -- or cautions, or insights?

CASEY: I think he or she has a wonderful leadership team in place, a strong governing board, and of course great teachers and staff – to learn about those folks first prior to initiating a lot of changes because we’re going to be fiscally challenged in Arizona, and Payson will be no different for a few years still.  It’s going to be trying to understand and appreciate the pressure that teachers are under, that school principals are under, and seek to continue to support them.  For a superintendent to be successful it’s basically trying to support the principals and teachers by getting out of their way.  There’s enough of that, I feel, that’s coming down from both the federal and the state level.

GAZETTE: So what about this trailer you bought?

CASEY: I understand you guys are vintage trailer aficionados? 

GAZETTE: We hope to be one day.

CASEY: We hope to be one day too, but my wife has jumped right in because she was driving around Payson last year and saw a little 1952 12-foot trailer and the guy was willing to give it to her for $400 so now she’s looking at all these YouTube restoration videos.  She wants it to be cute but not to make it a money pit.  Now that we’re venturing into the state retirement system vs. the direct compensation system we have to be a little more careful.  Fortunately, it’s pretty little so there’s not a lot you can do.  This is a hobby sort of thing.  Trust me, we’re not going to fix this up and hit the road.

GAZETTE: Sounds pretty cool.  What make is it?

CASEY: It’s called a Jewel and there’s this guy in Germany who has a PhD in American vintage trailers and he’s collected all the manuals and advertisements.   This Jewel was made for a couple of years and they’re long gone, but we do have some background on it.

GAZETTE: Besides the trailer, how do you see your life evolving?

CASEY: Part of our decision to retire now was so that we could do some things while we have, not just our health, but the stamina and energy to do some things that are a little more adventurous – and I don’t mean necessarily to climb Mt. Everest – but to travel and do a little hiking and biking.  We said now is the time.  I had a conversation with my dad who retired about my age and he said, “Once you hit 60, 80 comes at you like a train.”

GAZETTE: Well, good luck to you, and I understand that we’re planning to come over and see your trailer.  And tell Priscilla if she ever finds another deal like this to let us know.

CASEY: Oh, absolutely.  I don’t want to say it’s an addiction, but she has cruised the streets of Payson and Globe when she goes to see her folks (looking for vintage trailers).  She goes and knocks on the door.   So absolutely if we see something.

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