One hour northeast of Payson, the small rural community of Heber-Overgaard sits squarely in the picturesque White Mountains.
The local chamber of commerce’s motto is: “We have more trails than roads, more trees than buildings and more wildlife than people!”
The community is centered around the local school district, which is the largest employer in the area with about 80 employees. For years, area residents drove 30 miles to Snowflake for high school, but in the late 80s, residents voted to expand the Heber-Overgaard district into a K-12 unified school district and approved a bond to build the high school.
Led by Superintendent Ron Tenney, the 500-student Heber-Overgaard Unified School District graduates about 30 students each year.
Tenney is a third-generation resident of Heber, he met his wife in high school, and started his career as a Heber teacher.
“You have to love Heber to want to be here. Ron is local. He grew up here and raised his children here. He has a vested interest in our success and his motive is to benefit our kids,” said Marti Ballesteros, a fifth-grade teacher at Capps Middle School. “He loves his community and with that kind of passion you know that his heart is in the right place.”
Although small, that doesn’t stop students from exceeding academically.
Capps Middle School consistently earns top marks. Heber’s high school students can earn up to 12 college credits without leaving campus due to an innovative partnership with Northland Pioneer College, which video streams live college courses for students. The district uses Vail School District’s Beyond Textbooks curriculum, which Tenney said provides teachers resources and access to curriculum specialists that the district couldn’t otherwise afford.
“He’s an innovator and is always looking for ways to improve and be more efficient, because in the end, it’s all about the students,” said Capps Middle School Principal Tim Slade.
The district also comes with its challenges.
Since Heber is not a municipality, the district’s schools must have their own septic systems. Just a few weeks ago, Tenney could be seen helping to fix the school’s septic system. Many students live in remote locations, some without running water or electricity. This district has limited broadband access, so not all classrooms can use the internet at the same time. As a mountain community, they also have to deal with snow days, when it can sometimes take days to clear some of the rural roadways of snow.
But friends and coworkers said that Tenney does everything he can to support the needs of students and teachers and finds creative solutions for their issues.
“As superintendent, I can say I love waking up every morning and going to work,” said Tenney. “It’s a great place to raise a family. We have amazing students and a wonderful staff. That’s what keeps bringing me back. If the Board keeps me, I’ll stay here forever.”