Ashland High School Principal Jeff Schlecht, 59, will retire June 30 after 30 years as an educator.

While in the Peace Corps, Jeff Schlecht was caught in a monsoon in rural Thailand and while in the Marine Corps, he battled a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.

But the most exciting experience of his life has been serving as Ashland High School's principal for the past eight years, he said.

"As an educator, you get to make a hundred different decisions everyday about what will benefit kids, and the fun is when you get a chance to get together and hug, and thank the parents and talk about their kids' progress. It's just so fun," he said.

Schlecht, 59, will retire June 30 after 30 years as an educator.

A community party for the well-regarded principal will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday on the Ashland High School football field. The event, which will feature a barbecue picnic, music and games, is open to the public.

Attendees will have an opportunity to share their thoughts with Schlecht during an open mic and video recording portion of the event.

People are also encouraged to bring a photo, poem or letter to add to a scrapbook volunteers are making for Schlecht.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro lauded Schlecht's work.

"Jeff has been really an outstanding principal," she said. "I'd say his greatest gift is that he has this ability to have relationships with students, faculty and parents. He's helped shape a really positive culture at the school that helps support student learning."

Under Schlecht, graduation rates and test scores increased significantly, she said. The school was ranked in the top 3 percent of high schools in the nation in 2007 and 2009 by U.S. News and World Report.

Schlecht officially retired in November, in order to avoid potential changes to his retirement benefits in January, but decided to continue working as a contracted employee through the end of the school year.

Bellview Elementary School Principal Michelle Zundel will become the high school's principal in July.

Previously Schlecht was an associate principal at the high school and principal at Briscoe Elementary School.

After receiving a teaching certificate from Southern Oregon College, now Southern Oregon University, he began his career in education in 1970, working as a teacher at Scio High School, in the Willamette Valley.

Schlecht plans to continue living in Ashland, and to volunteer at the high school.

"I'm staying in Ashland, so I'm not going to fall off the face of the earth," he said. "The students are going to see me walking down Siskiyou (Boulevard) and being a part of the community in a different way."

Beginning in July, Schlecht said he will take time to enjoy his hobbies, which include reading, cycling, hiking and fly fishing — all of which he largely put on hold for the past eight years.

"I deliberately have not made immediate plans, because, being a high school principal — and it's a job that I absolutely adore but — it takes a lot of time and most of the summer, so I really plan on not filling my calendar," he said.

Schlecht will take a two-week backpacking trip through Yellowstone National Park this summer, he said.

"I am looking forward to slowing things down a little bit," he said.

He also plans to spend more time with his family during his retirement. His wife, Joyce, teaches kindergarten at Bellview. His son, Ethan, is a sophomore at Ashland High School and his daughter, Clare, just completed her sophomore year at California State University, Chico.

School Board member Carol Davis said Schlecht will be missed. Her son, Jackson, an Ashland High School freshman, also attended Briscoe when Schlecht was principal there.

"I always found him to be a great administrator," she said. "He definitely always thinks about what's best for the kids."

Schlecht got to know many of his students personally, including Jackson, she said.

"One of the things you love about a small town is that the principal isn't just a figurehead, he's there in the classroom, he's there are the sporting events, he's there at the rallies," she said.

Kelly Odion, a sophomore at the high school, said Schlecht is well liked among students at the school.

"Pretty much all the students really like him," she said. "He's an awesome principal. I'm kind of sad he's retiring."

Henry Cislo, also a sophomore, helped his grandfather, Pete Cislo, install a stone, which commemorates Schlecht's service, in the high school's quad last weekend.

"I'm glad I experienced him being my principal for two years," Henry said. "I think he's a really good guy and I love his smile."

For more information on the party Sunday, e-mail jsretirementparty@gmail.com or see jeffretirementparty.blogspot.com.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.