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Phil Kilgore, long-time director of the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative, is retiring. EXTERNAL AFFAIRS | COURTESY

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.”