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Fox Chapel Area residents can provide input about superintendent qualifications

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

As a nationwide search gets under way for a new leader of the Fox Chapel Area School District, the community is asked to weigh in on potential candidates.

Residents can attend one of six sessions that kick off Sept. 10 and focus on challenges and needs of the district.

Current Superintendent Anne Stephens announced her retirement earlier this summer after leading the district since 2006. Her decision to leave was made public at the same time that some residents raised questions about her academic qualifications, noting that she holds a doctorate from the defunct online school LaSalle University.

Stephens said the timing was coincidental. She had long been in talks with the board about retiring on Jan. 1, 2014, six months earlier than her contract expires, Stephens said.

At the crux of the issue for some angry residents was whether Stephens' $190,000 salary was justified since state regulators shut down her alma mater in 2001 after questioning whether it was a diploma mill.

School Board President Joel Weinstein pointed out that the state does not require superintendents to hold a doctorate.

There is a district policy that requires it but Stephens argued at the time the district doesn't stipulate the degree come from an accredited school.

Weinstein said previously that he would prefer a candidate from an accredited university but would vote for an applicant without one if they seemed right for the position.

He said he will seek a leader with similar qualities to those of Stephens, adding that she did a great job.

Details of Stephens retirement package will not be available until later this year, said Bonnie Berzonski, district coordinator of communications.

Board members were sought this week for comment on what credentials they might look for in a new superintendent. None returned calls and instead, Berzonski issued a statement on behalf of the board.

“As part of the national search to find the next superintendent, the Board of School Directors has asked the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to reach out to as many stakeholders as possible to gain input as to what qualities they feel will be needed to make certain the Fox Chapel Area School District continues to excel as a premier district in Western Pennsylvania, the commonwealth, and the nation,” she said.

The school board contracted the PSBA for search costs of up to $25,000.

Consultant Tom Templeton will lead next week's meetings, which are expected to last about two hours.

Focus group sessions will be hosted Sept. 10 at 9 a.m. at O'Hara Elementary, 1 p.m. at Kerr Elementary and 7 p.m. at the high school. A second round will be held Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. at Fairview Elementary, 1 p.m. at Hartwood Elementary and 7 p.m. at Dorseyville Middle School.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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