Ron Keller has spent 40 years as a teacher, coach, activities director/assistant principal and principal. The last six years of that was even more challenging, a basically 24/7 job converting a vision of the Kansas Legislature into reality -- the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science at Fort Hays State University.
"Students might need me at night, or parents might need me day or night, or international agents need me day or night, or whatever it might be. It's been an extremely busy job," said Keller. But he and his wife, Dana (rhymes with Hannah), "felt like it's time for us to spend some time together."
"We've never seen the Grand Canyon. We want to see the leaves turn on the East Coast," he said. "We just want to go and explore the United States. We've been a lot of places, but there's a lot of places we haven't been."
Dr. Joey Linn, FHSU's associate vice president for student affairs, will oversee both the transition and the search for the new KAMS director.
"Having been involved in KAMS over the past number of years, I am a strong supporter of the program and look forward to working more directly with the KAMS students and their families," said Linn.
Keller began his career with five years as a teacher and coach at Northern Valley High School, Almena. Then came five years teaching and coaching at Liberal High School, two years at Pampa High School, Pampa, Texas, and three years as an assistant principal and activities director back at Liberal High School. After that came 19 years as a principal, first at Colby High School, then Meade High School and Stanton County High School, Johnson, and the final five years before KAMS at Hugoton Middle School.
Dana Keller taught vocal music for 13 years, was director of a learning center in Hugoton for five years, served several churches as a choir director and pianist, and worked for several schools as a musical accompanist. She also went on a musical tour, singing her way across England and Scotland.
"She has always wanted to take me to some of the places she was able to go. We're looking forward to doing that."
His first academic year at KAMS, 2008-2009, was laying the groundwork for the first class, working out of Rarick Hall while Custer was being remodeled into a residence hall and headquarters for high-achieving, high-goal high school juniors and seniors whose aspirations are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
KAMS, he said, has been "very, very gratifying."
"I've loved every single minute of it. I've really loved working with these students, and I've really enjoyed the Fort Hays State University community," he said.
"I feel we're leaving the Academy in great shape. We've got some awesome students here," said Keller.
He recently distributed to campus a 23-page, single-spaced list of accomplishments of the first five KAMS classes. They range across a wide spectrum of research, leadership, scholarship, fellowships, jobs and internships, foreign study opportunities, honors recognitions, and much more.
"People can easily see how successful the kids are that come out of our program and the high-level kinds of things they are involved with while they're here," he said. "There are just some phenomenal things happening with our kids."
Students at the Academy complete the last two years of high school and earn a minimum of 68 hours of college credit in an advanced curriculum. The average is about 75 hours of college credit earned.
The Kansas Academy is one of 16 such academies around the country, and the aim was much the same as in the other states that have similar programs: Keep talented young people in state by providing a rigorous academic environment, thus stopping an out-migration of highly ambitious and accomplished young people. In the process, the economic future of the state is also brightened.
"I think we're doing with the Academy what the Legislature and everybody else wanted to see when they formed the Academy, and that was trying to keep the brain drain from occurring within the state," he said, adding, "and I think we're the only Academy out of the 16 in the country that is seeing a significant number of students stay in state, somewhere around 80 percent.
"We've also managed to keep 35-40 percent here at Fort Hays State. Students who come to Fort Hays State University fall in love with it, just like I did. They just love being here. They love getting involved on campus. It's a great place to be."
"When you talk with our students, they truly value that international component," said Keller. "They interact with those kids and feel like they learn a lot from them. They learn a lot about other cultures and show off our culture."
Aside from the imperative of personal plans too long put off, Keller is comfortable leaving now because the Academy is on solid footing.
"There are great things in store for the future of the students in the Academy and for the Academy itself," he said. He points to the level of achievement that so many students have already attained, and to the quality of the faculty.
"The faculty has been very receptive to the students, and that makes for a great relationship between the KAMS students and the faculty and the traditional students on campus."
He is also leaving behind an experienced staff that has worked together for most of the Academy's history.
"We have a great staff that interacts well with the students, and I don't see that changing a bit, no matter who is in the director position," he said. "The new director is going to be somebody who is there for the students, and the rest of the staff is totally here for the students. Doors are open all the time for the kids."
All of that, he said, is why young people feel comfortable coming to KAMS, and it is why they will continue to feel comfortable making that choice.
"We're all part of the great family of KAMS," he said.
For more detailed information about the KAMS program, please check out the website at www.fhsu.edu/kams or call 785-628-4690. Applications are still being accepted for the fall 2014 semester.