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Bjalobok returns to Highlands as superintendent

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

Michael Bjalobok left Highlands School District four years ago to become the South Side Area School District's superintendent.

When he returns on March 1, it will be as Highlands' superintendent.

On Monday, the Highlands board unanimously voted to hire Bjalobok (pronounced BILL-a-bock) as its new superintendent, succeeding Joseph Latess. Latess resigned in June after two years as superintendent, deciding to take an early retirement.

Pat Graczyk, assistant to the superintendent, was appointed acting superintendent after Latess left. He'll return to that post.

Bjalobok of Wexford was hired on a five-year contract and will be paid a starting annual salary of $130,000. Solicitor Ira Weiss said Bjalobok will be eligible for maximum merit pay raises of 3.5 percent each year, based on annual evaluations done by the board.

“I am truly excited. This is a great day for me,“ Bjalobok said in a phone interview Monday night. “When I heard that Highlands was open, I wanted the chance to do some really neat things there because I really loved the community. I really loved the people there.”

“We are very pleased with this decision,” Highlands board President Carrie Fox said.

“(Bjalobok) has a history with our district and we are honored that he wanted to come back here as our superintendent,” she said.

Fox said the board hired Tri-State School Study Council at the University of Pittsburgh to conduct an in-state search about six months ago. Bjalobok was among the five finalists the group recommended.

She said it is obvious that Bjalobok has grown professionally in the four years he has been superintendent at South Side Area, also known as South Side Beaver.

“He just came in here and blew us away,” Fox said. “I think he can move mountains here.”

“South Side was a nice opportunity because it gave me a chance to do a lot of things I wanted to do,” Bjalobok said. “The board there was very supportive.

“I had an opportunity to do a lot with technology there,” he said. “We did a lot with academics as well. We were able to increase student achievement. We rose from 60 to 42 on the Pittsburgh Business Times ranking.”

Bjalobok came to Highlands as assistant superintendent after being hired in July 2007 at a salary of $97,000. At that point, he had been an elementary school principal in the Seneca Valley School District since 1995.

About a month after he was hired at Highlands, Bjalobok found himself in the midst of a district in upheaval as Superintendent Karol Galcik abruptly announced she was taking a leave of absence for health reasons just as the 2007-08 year was about to begin. He served under a former Highlands superintendent, Nick Staresinic, who was appointed acting superintendent.

Bjalobok resigned in December 2008 to take the South Side Area job.

When he left, Bjalobok described Highlands as a progressive school district and said he felt at home since the day he arrived.

“I think it's one of the better kept secrets in the Allegheny Valley,” he said at the time.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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