During his nine-year tenure as head of the Medford School District, Phil Long faced a recession, an 11-day teachers' strike, public criticism and increased expectations from the state and federal government.

During his nine-year tenure as head of the Medford School District, Phil Long faced a recession, an 11-day teachers' strike, public criticism and increased expectations from the state and federal government.

But on the eve of his retirement, Long's colleagues praised his leadership, his ethics, his devotion to kids and his ability to remain "calm through the storm."

"I found Phil to be a man of integrity and a good person to work with," said School Board member Ron Andersen. "And he didn't slack off during his last year. He put in 125 percent to make sure he was leaving the district in better shape than when he found it.

"I think he can walk out with his head held high," Andersen added.

Long retired Monday after 30 years with the district, including six years as a middle and high school teacher, eight as assistant principal at South Medford High School, three as curriculum supervisor, four as curriculum director and nine as superintendent.

"I'm handing off the mantle of stewardship of the district, and it is heavy," Long said Sunday. "There is going to be relief ... but I will fondly look back on many of my experiences."

Long announced his retirement last August and has since accepted a position as principal of Cascade Christian High School.

In addition to working directly with students again, Long said he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and two adult children and investing in other areas of the community.

"Someone once said, 'To live is to change and to live long is to change often,' " Long said. "I've been with the district for 30 years in five roles, and the next change is a new employer and a new job."

The last year proved to be one of the most challenging in Long's career, starting in June 2013 when board member Kim Wallan made a surprise motion, seconded by board member Marlene Yesquen, to terminate Long's contract without cause in 90 days. However, after a lengthy board discussion, the motion was tabled.

Despite the awkward situation, Wallan said she and Long were able to maintain a professional relationship.

"I think he could have been resentful or whatever, but instead he was always respectful and professional," she said Sunday.

Despite their differences, Wallan said she has appreciated Long's guidance on the policy committee, as well as his guidance during the strike in February that sidelined more than 500 teachers.

One of Long's paramount projects in the last decade has been the 2006 passage of a $189 million school bond measure for the repairs and upgrades of 18 campuses.

"When he first proposed it, I thought, 'Phil, let's not bite off more than we can chew,' " board member Tricia Prendergast said.

But the more facts he presented, the more the board and community got behind it, she said.

Long also helped to secure the small-schools and Reading First grants, to increase the graduation rate from under 60 percent to nearly 70 percent, to install professional learning communities, and to encourage curriculum adoption so teachers had access to instructional materials that were consistent across the district.

Despite his accomplishment, Long said graduation was always the high point of his year.

"I call it my payday," he said, adding that more than 700 students graduated this June.

Killen said that in past contract negotiations, Long didn't request additional vacation days.

"He felt he needed to be available 24/7, 365 days a year, and he lived that," she said.

Todd Bloomquist, director of secondary education, said Long was on the team that hired him back in 1994. At the time, Long was an assistant principal at South.

"He's definitely been a mentor and role model for me," Bloomquist said. "One of things he always says is, 'If you mess up, you fess up,' and he modeled that for people."

North Medford High School Principal Ron Beick and Jackson Elementary School Principal Kelly Soter both said Long was supportive of them in their roles and willing to hear ideas and concerns and come up with tactical ways to do what needed to be done, even if the money wasn't there.

"I felt like he made a point to know each of us individually and check in with us individually," Soter said. "He would stop me in the hall and say, 'How's everything going? Is there anything you need?' "

For the past two months, Long has had weekly phone conversations with the new superintendent, Brian Shumate, who starts July 9. Shumate said Long filled him in on board decisions and any changes happening within the district.

"He's been a total gentleman," Shumate said Monday, on his last day as assistant superintendent for Academic Achievement K-12 of Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky.

"He has done everything in his power to make this a smooth transition. He's very devoted to the district and the kids and that's been very evident in our conversations. The district is in good shape and that's a tribute to him and his staff."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Corrections: Brian Shumate's first day with Medford School District will be July 9 and not July 15 as originally published. Andersen's last name has been corrected in this story.