After 10 years as Hillsdale College’s director of the Barney Charter School Initiative, Phil Kilgore is saying farewell.
Kilgore’s interest in working for Hillsdale College started when his oldest child, Aaron Kilgore, attended the college. In 2009, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn approached Kilgore with a plan to found classical charter schools around the nation. After a few conversations with Arnn, it was evident that Kilgore’s background in management consulting, industry, and military services made him perfect for the position. Kilgore took the job, moving from Colorado to Hillsdale with his wife, Melinda.
At the time, the plan was nothing more than an idea on paper. The first three schools launched in 2012 and 2013. Ten years later and with Kilgore’s help, Hillsdale has launched 25 schools, serving more than 13,000 students.
“It eventually evolved to being a three-prong support system: consultation, providing formal and informal training, and creating curricular resources,” Kilgore said. “We worked in that framework for these schools.”
Kilgore gave nothing less than his best to the school, giving his soul attention to the program and truly acclimating himself in all Hillsdale stands for.
“He attended the philosophy of education class that we offer here within the education department. Mr. Kilgore threw himself into that,” professor Daniel Coupland said. “I believe he took a number of the core classes here at Hillsdale. He really just acclimated himself to Hillsdale, what Hillsdale was just to get a solid understanding about Hillsdale’s view on education.”
Arnn credits Kilgore for his service and hard work.
“Phil has done important service here at Hillsdale and its effects will last,” Arnn said in an email. “There are now more than 20 charter schools affiliated with the college in one way or another. To accomplish this, Phil has built relationships all over the country and a strong team here. We are grateful to him for his service, wish him every good thing, and remain ready to help whenever he has need.”
Since moving to Hillsdale and having three of his four children attend the college, the town holds a special place in Kilgore’s heart. His favorite part of the job just happens to be Hillsdale’s town motto.
“It’s the people,” Kilgore said. “I have worked with some really, really great people — both here at the college and the ones who are founding the schools and leading the schools and teaching at the schools. I have really enjoyed getting to know them over the years and forming good relationships while we are engaged in this really good work.”
Kilgore’s emphasis on personal connections has influenced his co-workers.
“Phil taught me a lot about how to work with people — a lot of different types of people,” said Becky Holland, who was the first person Kilgore hired and now serves as director of curriculum and instruction. “He is a very caring individual. Getting to know who they are as people is important, even more in a business situation. Everyone has background and a story that is affecting their decisions that they are making. While we try to keep things business and professional and obviously not let the personal override that, it is important to know who people are when you are working with them in this kind of advisory role relationship.”
Though leaving the school, Kilgore says he does not consider it a retirement but rather a farewell. He plans to continue working, likely doing some consulting in education or business and industry.
“My last words would be a very warm thank you to everyone who supported our work, whether it is people on the staff and faculty or the hundreds of donors, because everyone has to come together,” Kilgore said, “The program has experienced tremendous success and it was everyone’s doing. I had the privilege of leading it but it took everybody. The privilege to be a part of something like this for a decade is a gratifying experience.”