5 vie for 4 open seats on Penn Hills school board

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 12:57 p.m.

Candidates for the Penn Hills School District Board of School Directors all have different ideas for how they would like to improve the district, but all agree on one thing: improvement is an absolute necessity.

“Funding continues to be the greatest issue, with cyber and charter schools accounting for over $10 million this past year,” said incumbent Jennifer Burgess-Johnson, 41.

Pauline Calabrese, one of three challengers including William Phifer and Linda Molitierno, said losing students is a problem that needs corrected.

“We are losing legitimate students to charters, cyber schools, private schools, etc.,” Calabrese said. “Parents and students who live in Penn Hills, and those who would consider moving here, need to be assured that our district is safe and is a place of learning.”

William Phifer, 56, said his whole platform is based on “raising the lagging test scores in the district.”

Phifer has 20 years of experience as a child welfare worker and wants to put that experience to work “restoring open communication and competitiveness in the Penn Hills School District.”

Incumbent Robert Hudak, 69, is a former district teacher with 35 years of experience in education.

His focus is on showing the positive side of a school district he felt has been maligned in recent years.

“We need to inundate the region with the myriad of successes and achievements of our students,” Hudak said.

“Too often, these significant accomplishments are overlooked and unmentioned. As residents, we're aware to some degree that the excellence of the Penn Hills community is dwarfed by the isolated negative incidents.”

Hudak said if the school board can elevate the perception of the district, “we'll see correlated increases in our property values and enhance the reputation of the community.”

Due to a family emergency, candidate Linda Molitierno was unable to respond to press inquiries.

Burgess-Johnson, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Linda Gallo in 2012, said if she is elected, she wants to continue to focus on “increasing parental involvement, district-wide accountability and the completion of the long-overdue update of all district policies.”

Calabrese said she would spend her first year working with teachers along the lines of Phifer's goal to improve district test scores.

“I'd also like to improve the enforcement of discipline and improve our relations with the media so that the good things that are happening here can be reported more often,” she said.

Hudak and Calabrese both would like to see a dedicated effort to ensure that all district students are, in fact, district residents.

“It's an ongoing effort, but it's a process we must continue,” Hudak said.

Calabrese said the district needs to focus on increasing the student body “by legitimate residents of Penn Hills, not those who are illegally coming in from the City of Pittsburgh or elsewhere.”

Phifer said that if elected, he would work to “keep an open line of communication with teachers and parents.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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