Steve Savoy walked up wearing a button up, glasses and a casual grin.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “A pipe burst at Oakwood Elementary late last night.”
This is just a glimpse into the kinds of issues that arise for Savoy each day as deputy superintendent of Peoria Unified School District. But Savoy has been taking it in his stride since he secured the position. Not for much longer, though, as he will retire from PUSD in June after a 38-year career with the district.
Savoy is originally from Boston, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and criminal justice at Salem State University. After receiving his degree, he went on a month-long road trip with his college roommates to California. It was then that he found Phoenix.
“It was fun. We spent about a month on the road and we came through Phoenix actually on our way out west,” Savoy said. “I’d never experienced the desert before — Spanish architecture and different food. I just really loved it out here.”
After wrapping up his time in California, Savoy knew where he was headed next.
He got his start in PUSD in 1981 as a substitute teacher for Desert Palms Elementary, where he was offered a contract.
“I walked into a sixth grade class as a substitute teacher and knew within 30 seconds that this is what I was meant to do for my entire life,” Savoy said.
Savoy had originally planned to attend law school after college, but found teaching and never stopped. He still calls it his “best decision ever.”
He taught for 11 years in the Peoria district, moving from Desert Palms to Sundance and Pioneer elementaries, specializing in junior high.
“I spent most of my time at Sundance — always junior high. I love seventh and eighth grade kids,” Savoy said.
During this time he received his master’s in education and leadership from NAU, after which he moved on from teaching and became the assistant principal and subsequently principal of Desert Valley Elementary over the span of nine years. He made his way over to Alta Loma Elementary as principal for another four years before officially signing on to the PUSD office, where he has stayed for the last 15 years.
Savoy may not be a native to Arizona, but he has created his roots here through his dedication to family and work. He and his wife, Carol, met in 1988 and decided to blend their families. Savoy now has five children and 12 grandchildren, all of whom are either PUSD alumni or current PUSD students.
“One granddaughter is graduating from Liberty this year,” Savoy said proudly. “We’re excited for her. She wants to be a firefighter. She does really good as a student.”
Savoy started out in the district office as a K-12 administrator, learning the ropes of the position.
“That’s where you kind of cut your teeth and you learn,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of challenges and a lot of rewards.”
Savoy was then promoted to chief of operations and finally deputy superintendent. Running an entire district can’t be easy, let alone the third largest in the state, but Savoy said his team is what makes the job run smoothly.
“There’s a lot of components that make it all run, and you need that support from so many people to make it be successful every day,” Savoy said. “That’s the challenges of this job, but it’s also incredibly exciting. I love it. I absolutely love it.”
PUSD remains the largest employer of Peoria. Savoy said this year the district has more than 4,000 employees.
But he has witnessed a lot of changes to PUSD from when he started 38 years ago.
“When I came to the district there were six elementary schools and two high schools: Peoria and Cactus high school. That was a big rivalry,” Savoy said. “Today, we have 33 elementary schools, seven comprehensive high schools and one flex academy.”
Savoy said PUSD now has over 37,000 students enrolled, compared to what he estimates as 4,000 to 6,000 when he began his career.
Though some things do change, others remain the same. Cactus and Peoria would sooner freeze over than abandon their decades-old rivalry, for instance.
The most impactful growth of PUSD for Savoy has been the introduction of career and technical education in schools. These programs can help students complete intensive, career-based coursework and earn industry certification before they graduate, which can make them immediately employable. Examples of this include culinary, early childhood education and nursing programs available on school campuses.
“The growth of career and technical education has really provided all sorts of opportunities for our students to be college and career ready. It gives students the opportunity to explore all different avenues before they graduate in a lot of different arenas,” Savoy said.
School is meant for more than just securing a good future, though. It’s also a place for students to grow socially amongst their peers. Savoy recognizes this as a pivotal part of PUSD’s goals.
“We know that the more we get students involved in school the more they’ll be successful. School is a good place for kids to be; it’s a good, safe place. They make a lot of friends; they learn about life,” Savoy said. “We’ve always been a district that’s focused on the whole child.”
For Savoy, his favorite interactions with students are his own former students, who often approach him to share anecdotes from his teaching career, asking him, “Do you remember when…?” and he is immediately taken back in time. It’s a defining moment for him.
These days, as he nears his retirement, however, some of those anecdotes leave him surprised at the longevity of his own career.
“Now I have kids who tell me about their mother or their grandmother and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’” he said with a laugh.
With the culmination of so many years of hard work fast approaching, and an obvious love of the position he held, is there anything he won’t miss?
“The phone calls that come in at all hours of the night and the weekends — usually a concern that came up with a school somewhere. Those, I won’t miss,” he said.
He has had his fair share of the wild and weird at PUSD, even more so than the occasional flood or fire alarm. No, the most memorable for him are from seniors determined to make a lasting impression on their school via an old American tradition: senior pranks.
“Some of the senior pranks over the years have been pretty funny, but we won’t put that in there because that’ll give them ideas,” he said with a laugh.
When his career finally ends on June 1 of this year, he’ll be taking a much-needed break. He plans to visit Europe for the first time with his wife in September, when the two will travel to Spain, Italy, Croatia and the French coast.
“I’m just going to be me, take a break, recharge. I’m going to do a lot of traveling, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s a new chapter,” he said.
Savoy isn’t leaving PUSD without giving some final advice, though. When he looks to the future, Savoy hopes to see public education continue to survive and thrive in the Peoria community. Though only 30% of Peoria homes send their children to PUSD, 100% of those living in the district are the ones supporting their neighborhood schools.
“The democratic ideals of our nation, the United States of America … is that we all support an educational opportunity for every child,” Savoy said.
Above all else, Savoy believes in the power of the Peoria community to protect and maintain good public education.
“If you access that education, if you make it the best opportunity, you can do anything you want in your life,” Savoy said.
“There is nothing you cannot do. That’s why every family has an opportunity for economic, cultural and social success, because if the family sits down and says, ‘Education is a priority in our home’ … 100% guarantee that student will be successful. There’s other kids that are successful in spite of not having any of that support.
“That’s the great story of America, that’s the story of the American dream and that story is told every day to the 37,000 kids in our district.”