McKellar welcomes new role as North Hills' director of safety, security

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

William McKellar is no stranger to the North Hills hilltop campus.

After serving there as senior high school security guard for the past seven years, the Ross Township resident has taken on a new role as the North Hills School District's director of safety and security.

Most of McKellar's career has been spent in law enforcement — serving as a member of the U.S. Army's Military Police Corps in Bamberg, Germany; a stint as an Allegheny County Prison corrections officer and then 21 years with the county sheriff's office. He retired as a detective and sergeant in 2005.

Time in the military was all it took to set his career path after McKellar graduated from North Hills in 1968. He still finds working in law enforcement fascinating.

“I enjoy interacting with people and upholding different laws,” he said.

As director, he'll serve as a safety specialist, law enforcer, problem solver, liaison to community organizations and educator — sometimes more than 40 hours a week if there are special events.

McKellar started his new position last month. His annual salary is $40,158.

It was assistant Superintendent Johannah Vanatta's efforts to revamp safety and security measures last year that led to creating the position and bringing in McKellar, 63, to help implement the changes.

“He's very good for this position,” said Vanatta, of Taylorstown, Washington County, who has been with the district since 2008.

McKellar's police background, education, ability to create community rapport and approachability made him the ideal candidate, Vanatta said.

For this school year, $50,000 was budgeted for security enhancements on the secondary schools campus and at West View Elementary.

“Things have changed in the last 20 years,” said Vanatta, citing the Columbine, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. shootings at schools in 1999 and 2012, respectively. “No one would ever think that someone would harm our children.”

Surveillance and having visible security are keys, McKellar said, for keeping students safe. He also commended the Ross Township Police Department for making its presence known every day on the middle and high school campus.

McKellar will work in close company with the district's two security guards and under the direct supervision of Nicole Bezila, director of pupil services

He has maintained a steady presence since the start of the school year. His mornings begin with supervising bus runs. From 10:35 a.m. to 1:16 p.m., he said, he chats with students in the cafeteria. And before the buses climb the hill again at the end of the day, there might be time for him to visit the middle school building or one of the elementary schools.

“I get to know the kids,” he said. “I like them all.”

McKellar serves as head coach of the North Hills Middle School girls soccer team and assistant coach of the middle school track team. He has been a volunteer coach for the North Hills Soccer Club since 1996.

Some call him “Sarg,” he said and smiled. But he makes it clear: “I don't want to be their friend. They have enough of those. I want to be there for them.”

In the next few weeks, McKellar will meet with administrators and police chiefs from West View and Ross to review the crisis-response plans for the district and each of its buildings. During those sessions, additional topics might be highlighted for McKellar to present to North Hills educators later this year.

This is an ongoing effort to use the district's existing security to its fullest capacity, Vanatta said.

“It's not 100 percent safe anywhere,” said McKellar, “but we're being proactive rather than reactive.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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