Kevin Hillman did not necessarily want to leave the St. Clair R-XIII School District and resign as its high school principal, but for family reasons and because the correct career opportunity presented itself, he felt it was in his best personal interests to do so.

The administrator turned in his resignation to the board of education during an executive session after January’s regular meeting late last week.

His resignation is effective after the current academic year.

Hillman has accepted the superintendent’s position in the South Callaway School District, located near Jefferson City and located much closer to his family. Since his arrival in St. Clair before the start of the 2011-2012 school year, the longtime administrator has had to travel on weekends to deal with illness-related issues pertaining to his mother and a nephew.

“One of the biggest things is my family,” Hillman told The Missourian this week. “My wife and I have talked a lot about it, and there have been some medical issues that have developed and changed that I didn’t have to deal with when I first came here.

“It was a very emotional decision,” he said. “I have great emotions for our students and school here at St. Clair. It was a tough decision and one that tore my heart.”

The search for Hillman’s replacement already has started as the position is listed on the R-XIII website as well as other school-related and state Internet sites. St. Clair Superintendent Mike Murphy said it is his goal to have a replacement announced by the end of February.

“Mr. Hillman has been an asset to our high school,” Murphy said. “I hate to see him go, but I understand it’s what’s best for him as well as a good career move. His family situation has been a challenge and has been difficult for him. He’s been able to overcome it, and now this (move) certainly will help.”

Murphy said he hopes to meet with school board members in executive session sometime next week to formulate a hiring plan and discuss the opening. In closed sessions, the board and administration may discuss personnel, but no votes can be taken.

“We will be focusing on many things,” Murphy said about the opening. “One of the goals will be to have a smooth transition and to find someone who can lead the high school and continue to move it forward.”

Recent challenges have been monumental at SCHS in the wake of three student deaths that took place during the first semester of the current academic year. The unrelated suicides rocked the high school, the district and the community, and countless hours have been spent working with and counselling high school students while trying to keep the education process moving forward.

“We need a sense of stability,” Murphy said. “We need to hire someone with that in mind.”

Board of education President Dave Berkel wished Hillman well.

“I wish him the best of luck moving into a superintendency as that will be a big step in his career and one he has wanted for some time,” Berkel said. “This has been a tough year for him and his staff and he held up to the test, and this was truly a large steppingstone for him and his career in education.”

Hillman said his job has been extremely difficult this year because of the tragedies, but also said he feels things are moving in the proper direction as both the healing and education process continues.

“We have a group of kids who have stepped forward to make not only themselves but the entire district better,” he said. “They have increased school spirit and pride. I am in awe of what they have done and how they have stepped forward.

“The student body as a whole has been great through this. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve come a long way while I’ve been here. When you look at the best schools, you look at kids who are taking an active role in that school. We’re doing that. Our kids are doing that.”

Hillman shared his decision with high school staff last Friday.

“It has been a very difficult time for me and my family, so it is with very mixed emotions that I tell you that I have resigned as the St. Clair High School principal,” Hillman said he told his staff, adding information about his family’s medical issues and the need to reduce his driving time to personally be able to help deal with them.

“I appreciate your support and work in our school and for our kids,” he said to his staff. “We have much work left for this year. I will talk fondly and with pride always of our school and my time here. I have become close to many of you. I thank you very, very much.”

Hillman was hired in April 2011 and replaced Vicki Enyart. At Palmyra, he was the high school principal as well.

Hillman said the South Callaway School District houses about 900 students in kindergarten through high school.

Its nickname, ironically, also is the Bulldogs.

“One of Mr. Hillman’s greatest assets is ability to sit down and be able to talk to anyone,” Murphy said. “That has helped us tremendously in recent times. You can’t teach that, and that’s what is needed in a superintendent’s position.”

Currently, St. Clair High School houses about 750 students, which is down slightly from previous years. The district has about 2,200 students. The high school has 60-plus staff members.