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Moon Area School District hires Baker as superintendent

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 7:52 p.m.
Curt Baker was sworn in as the new superintendent of the Moon Area School District on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. Baker was hired for a four-year term and his annual salary will be $160,000.

The Moon Area School District's new superintendent is one of five in Pennsylvania who never have taught children in a classroom.

That's OK, some school board members and parents say, because Moon Area needs a nontraditional leader who can steer the district in the right direction amid the challenges that schools nationwide are facing.

Curt Baker, 54, replaces Donna K. Milanovich, who retired in June after six years in the top job. He started Monday, and will be paid $160,000 a year under a four-year contract. He most recently was deputy superintendent of the Roanoke (Va.) City Public Schools.

“He has some innovative ideas. … A school district needs a leader who surrounds himself with experts, which is what we have,” board member Laura J. Schisler said.

Working with a strong team and drawing on team members' skills and experience is one of his priorities, Baker said.

“What I think is important is … realizing that there are a lot of skills and experiences in every school system” and bringing them together for success, he said.

He cited as examples his history of working on administrative teams that turned around troubled school districts.

In 2004, Baker was hired as the chief financial officer by the School District of Lancaster's then-superintendent, Rita Bishop, to clean up the district's finances.

Under Baker's leadership, the Lancaster district went from a $3.4 million deficit in its reserves to operating with a surplus every year. Lancaster finished 2006-07 with a $1.9 million fund balance.

When Bishop was hired as the superintendent of Roanoke City Public Schools in 2007, she took Baker with her. Hired as the deputy superintendent, he worked with an administrative team that increased the district's graduation rate about 21 percentage points to 80.3 percent since 2008,, and increased the fund balance from $6.6 million in to $35.5 million.

Moon Area is a high-performing district that doesn't have the same problems as the Virginia school system, Baker said. The Roanoke schools had operational, financial and instructional problems when he arrived, Baker said. He wants Moon Area to become elite.

“This is a school system with tremendous potential, and harnessing that potential to new and great places is really at the heart of this,” he said.

On Oct. 28, eight school board members voted unanimously to hire Baker; Jerry Testa was absent. Members selected Baker from 18 applicants gathered by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Schisler said.

Given challenges that school districts face, such as increasingly tough education mandates and rising pension costs, the district needs a leader who can keep it out of financial trouble while offering fresh ideas, Schisler said.

“What we really wanted to do was step outside the box and to continue with our great educators and our educational leaders that are in place,” she said.

A native of Glendale, Calif., Baker is a University of Southern California graduate with a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Baker has taught in Widener University's department of economics, the University of Houston's Graduate School of Business Administration and Hampton University's Leadership Academy for educators. He's married and has two adult sons.

Baker's business background likely will be an asset if he collaborates well with staff members, said Rosalind Taylor, membership chairwoman for the high school's Parent-Teacher Organization.

“I really believe that whether it's in a school district or not … everyone has their responsibilities, but you should function as a team,” said Taylor, who has a son who is a 2008 graduate and daughter who is a sophomore.

Baker's reputation as a hands-on leader is appreciated by Sherri Perfett, vice president of the Moon Area Middle School Parent-Teacher Group.

“We have really great schools in Moon and I really would like to see it maintained,” said Perfett, 52, who has two sons in sixth and ninth grade.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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