Phil Casey will step down as principal of the Newell-Fonda High School at the end of the school year. It is a position he has held for 24 years.
"I have loved this job," he said with all sincerity. "Hopefully I've helped make the difference in the lives of some of these kids."
Casey grew up in Massena, southwest Iowa and graduated from the Cumberland-Massena High School; it was one of the first schools to go through consolidation. "It is just as rough now as it was then," he said of the process necessary to bring school districts together.
His mom was employed by the school as the head cook and his dad drove a school bus and served as the head maintenance man. They put in 30 plus years with the school. "I've been around all areas and have a lot of respect for everyone who makes the school system work."
The second oldest of seven children, Casey admitted that he wasn't set on going to college and it wasn't until two weeks before classes began that he enrolled (something that is unheard of today.)
He graduated from the Northwest Missouri State University and landed his first teaching job at Corning High School. For 10 years he taught anatomy and physiology, math and physical education. He also served as the driver's education instructor and coached boys basketball, football, track and golf.
While there, he created the girls basketball program. "That was a nightmare. I was a wrestling and football player in school and had never played basketball." He had 80 girls showing interest in being a part of the new team; none of them had ever played. He is proud to say that the girls team became quite good over the years.
Five years into his teaching, he was encouraged by his wife Donna to continue his own education. He began attending night classes and Saturday classes at his alma mater in Missouri - while juggling coaching, teaching and family time. He initially thought of pursuing a recreation/health degree with the idea of operating a YMCA or other recreational facility but with the help of some fellow educators, he proceeded to earned his Master's Degree in administration.
His first principalship was for a K-12 school in Moorhead. "It was a little unnerving since I don't know much about teaching K-5 kids. It was a challenging year and I am glad for the opportunity to learn the educational system. It gave me a good look at the whole picture."
He came across an ad from Newell Providence School, applied and was thrilled to be chosen as principal.
The school began sharing classes with Fonda School in the 1989-90 school year and two years later the schools were consolidated.
"It was never about us and them. We all work together to give the best we can to the kids. There is no question that Newell-Fonda would not be as strong academically or athletically if it wasn't for the supporting cast of the staff and support staff."
And speaking of that, he commented he has had "three wonderful secretaries over the years that have made my job a whole lot easier.
"The most challenging part of this job is all the different hats you need to wear."
He has enjoyed the small school setting and the closeness of the students, families, and staff members. "I know every kid's name. It's important to me to call each student by his or her name when I see them in the hall and to know a little bit about each of them." He makes a point of attending the athletic events as well as the music events, school plays, etc. Not only is it a good time for supervising but also serves as a good chance to visit with the parents.
The best part of the job, he said, is seeing the students walk across the stage at graduation and handing them their diplomas. He enjoys seeing those that have graduated when they come back to visit and share their life with him. "It's rewarding when they come back," he said. "Many of them will say 'thanks' and 'thanks for putting up with me.'"
Several of N-F graduates are now on staff at the school; that brings about great deal of pride to Casey as well.
Through the years, Casey has been nominated as Principal of the Year for Area Educational Association 5 and two years received the title. He is an active member of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and has served on committees for the School Administrators of Iowa. Casey also serves on the Buena Vista University Education Advisory Committee.
Casey will miss his job - but he won't be far away. "After 24 years, I have blue and silver running through my veins!"
His wife, Donna, is also employed at the school as elementary secretary. "She has always been very supportive of me and my job."
The Caseys' two children - Michelle (Shellie) and Matthew graduated from N-F. Their father proudly presented them with their diplomas.
He plans to continue working - somewhere - after his time is up at the school.
The hiring process for Casey's position has begun.