When Higley Elementary and Middle School starts classes in the fall, it will be the first time in 25 years that Carolyn Fairall won’t be there.
Fairall, 64, began teaching at Higley in 1982, when it was the only school in the district with just 160 students.
Since then, the district has become unified, adding a high school and five more elementary schools. Two more schools will open in the fall, and the district has grown to 8,000 students.
While Fairall, the district’s longest-tenured employee, prepares to retire at the end of the school year, she looks back fondly on her years at Higley.
Her grandmother, Alice Williams, and mother, Geneva Katherine Williams — later Adams — both graduated from Tempe Normal School, the teachers’ college that eventually evolved into Arizona State University. Two of her aunts and a great-aunt also were teachers.
“I have teaching in my blood,” Fairall said.
She taught for 10 years before joining Higley, first as a substitute in Tempe, and later full time in South Carolina and Joseph City, Ariz.
Back then, Higley “was a little country school way out in the boonies,” Fairall said. “We were surrounded by cotton fields, grape vineyards, dairy farms.”
She recalled being late for school a couple of times because sheep were being herded down the road and she couldn’t get around them.
“I liked coming to a country school because I grew up in Mayer, Ariz.,” she said.
It was a “little brick school surrounded by cotton fields.” The floors in her classroom were wooden, and there were large windows. The school had a bell tower, and the bell was rung when it was time to go to class.
“I don’t even think the road was paved in front of the school,” Fairall said. “The first buildings had evaporative cooling. We had to anchor paper down to keep it from blowing.”
The bell remains on the schoolgrounds, but the original building is gone.
Throughout the years, Fairall spent most of the time as a third-grade teacher, but she’s also taught first, sixth and a fourth-fifth combo. In addition, she’s coached girls and boys basketball.
Fairall uses music to teach her students. In fact, there’s a piano in her classroom, which she purchased with a $500 grant from Wells Fargo Bank.
“It’s not a very fancy piano, but I’ve always had a piano in my classroom,” she said. “I have a song for just about everything.”
When she leaves in a couple weeks, Fairall, who started the teachers’ union in the district, will not miss the politics. She will not miss the technology, either. “I prefer to keep my grades on paper,” she said.
But she will miss the staff and the students.
“They’re just full of joy and enthusiasm for learning,” she said, with a lump in her throat and a tear in her eye.
When she came to Higley, Fairall’s last name was Dare. She went through a divorce, and married a substitute teacher and artist, Gary Fairall, 19 years ago. Between the two, they have six children and five grandchildren.
In retirement, Fairall plans to spend a lot more time with her grandchildren. She also will start her own business as her husband’s art agent and selling antiques and collectibles on eBay. She’ll also finish books she’s been developing about her genealogy and Arizona history. She’s working with a colleague on another book about Higley for the district’s 100th anniversary in 2009.