New Mt. Pleasant Area superintendent is a teacher at heart
One day in late September, longtime Mt. Pleasant barber Joseph “Coke” Yancosky stepped out of his Main Street business on a break and spied what appeared to be a man standing near the borough's Diamond in need of directions.
“He just looked like a stranger here in town, looking this way and that ... it just seemed like he needed a hand,” Yancosky said. “I walked up to him and said ‘Hey, buddy, it looks like you could use some help.'”
What Yancosky didn't know at the time was that he was talking to Timothy M. Gabauer, who soon after would be hired by the Mt. Pleasant Area School District as its new superintendent.
“Thinking he was new to town, I just bragged up Mt. Pleasant to him like I would anybody else, and at the end of our talk he said he was in town for a second interview up at the district office,” Yancosky said. “I wished him best of luck.”
Such positive interactions with area merchants and citizens played a significant role in Gabauer's decision to accept the district's offer to take over its chief administrative post, he said.
“In general, the people I met in my initial visits to Mt. Pleasant were all very personable, very friendly and very warm,” said Gabauer, 45, of North Huntingdon, who previously served as superintendent of McKeesport Area School District since 2010.
“I had a great job at a great district with great people, so I was thinking that I wanted to be sure about where I might be going next,” he said.
District's search was a windy one
In early July, Mt. Pleasant Area's board of education voted to hire Emery D'Arcangelo, who formerly headed Franklin Regional School District, as its acting superintendent while continuing its search for a permanent leader to replace former district Superintendent Terry Struble.
That decision got Gabauer's attention, he said.
“I have the utmost respect for Emery. I don't know him personally, but I know of him, and I know he has done this job well over a long period of time. Hearing his name, without a doubt, piqued my interest in the position,” Gabauer said.
“That showed me they were serious about whatever move they were planning to make, in terms of finding someone to oversee the district, and ensure (that search) was on the right track,” he said.
Prior to the D'Arcangelo hire, Mt. Pleasant Area thought it had found a permanent replacement for Struble, whose contract was opened, effective June 30, based on a 5-4 vote by the school board in January. Struble was subsequently hired April 29 as superintendent of Clearfield Area School District, effective July 1.
In late June, Mt. Pleasant Area school board President Robert Gumbita Sr. said the board was prepared to hire William A. Clark as the district's full-time superintendent, also effective July 1.
Clark most recently worked as an education consultant at Solanco School District in the eastern part of the state. Before that, he was the superintendent at Manheim Central School District in the Lancaster area.
However, Clark accepted the superintendent's post at Warren County School District before the hire could be made.
When the second round of the search for Struble's permanent replacement began, Gabauer threw his proverbial hat in the ring, Gumbita said.
“From a professional perspective, I took an interest, in part, because I realized that I hadn't updated my resume since 1994,” said Gabauer, who had been a McKeesport Area employee since that time.
“I thought it would be an excellent professional development piece, just to go on an interview, and feel what that felt like again. I love sitting down and having educational conversations with whoever it is,” he said.
Candidate makes an unannounced exploration
After submitting his application for the Mt. Pleasant Area post, Gabauer said he attended two of the district's school board meetings, both at points in which he had yet to interview with district officials.
He sat unassuming in the back row, a spectator with his wife, Melissa, and the couple's 11-year-old son, Alex.
“I wanted to see how the meetings went and how the school board directors interacted with one another,” Gabauer said. “They were productive meetings, and there were cordial conversations throughout.”
During his first interview with district officials a short time later, Gabauer said he felt a strong sense of comfort and familiarity from the outset.
“Maybe about 10 minutes into the interview, I realized that I was extremely comfortable with all of the people in the room,” Gabauer said. “After the first interview, I got a sense that I would get called back for a second one. I went on the second interview, and the next day I got the call.”
Call of classrooms draws avid instructor, coach
At McKeesport Area, Gabauer worked his way up from his first teaching position in a Cornell Middle School social studies classroom.
He was a high school teacher and varsity baseball coach. He also served the middle school as dean of students, assistant principal, associate principal and principal.
Eventually, Gabauer was named vocational director, high school principal and assistant superintendent before taking over as superintendent in 2011.
Despite all the title changes and increases in responsibility, Gabauer said, he always considered himself to be a “teacher on special assignment.”
“Throughout every position I've had, that core is still there — I'm a classroom teacher,” he said. “My thoughts are always on getting into the school buildings and classrooms, because that's where the educational process takes place.”
Rula Skezas, who was recently chosen to succeed Gabauer as McKeesport Area's superintendent, served as the district's assistant superintendent since 2010.
Skezas said she and Gabauer shared “an excellent partnership” there.
“He (Gabauer) always included me in daily decision-making for the district; he's a people person, and he's always had an open door policy,” Skezas said.
“Tim's passion for education, for continuing to be on cutting edge of ideas, technology, educational advances are all characteristics of who he is.”
Such ideals were apparent to Gumbita, who said Gabauer's attention to detail and future plans for Mt. Pleasant Area set him apart from the other 12 candidates who applied for the position.
“He came in with a pretty detailed entrance plan, and we were really impressed by that,” Gumbita said. “It included everything he wanted to do in his first 10 days and his first 100 days ... how he was going to address situations, meet people and interview people. He interviewed very well.”
Gabauer spoke particularly of the idea of initiating a district alumni association.
“That would be a nice opportunity to keep people attached to the area, knowing the district and seeing it prosper,” he said.
Leader reaches out to district, community
Since his Nov. 1 start date at Mt. Pleasant Area, Gabauer said he has made it a top priority to get out to all district schools to meet employees at all levels, along with as many students and parents, as possible.
He recently took part in Veterans Day ceremonies at all the schools, attended a student-based luncheon held by the Rotary Club of Mt. Pleasant, and he was present for the district's parent-teacher conferences held Monday.
Gabauer also brought his daughters — Abigail, 14; and Maura, 13 — to attend a few Vikings football games.
“They were welcomed into the student section, no problem at all,” he said.
Gabauer said he also stopped in the junior-senior high school cafeteria during the students' lunch hour to introduce himself, and make sure they know he is there for them.
“I want the students to know who the superintendent is, and what a superintendent is,” he said. “Listening to those kids talk, I learned that they love their teachers and the district.”
Gabauer vows to maintain a “highly visible, daily presence” district-wide.
“I may just walk into a classroom, sit down and take part in lesson,” he said. “That is not me being evaluative, that's just me wanting to witness the educational process taking place between teachers and students, and keeping that bond to the classroom strong.”
Those qualities and skills are what made Gabauer the ideal pick to serve as superintendent of Mt. Pleasant Area, Gumbita said.
“I think we made the right choice, I'm very confident he will lead the district in a positive way,” he said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.