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Penn-Trafford interim superintendent's appointment to expire soon

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:48 p.m.

With Matt Harris's appointment as interim superintendent winding down, Penn-Trafford School Board members are evaluating his tenure to determine whether to extend the temporary job or offer him the permanent position, board President Toni Ising said.

Harris has been the district's top administrator since August. He took over for a six-month term after Tom Butler resigned after two years to join Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 as executive director.

In the public meetings since then, school board members haven't discussed how they want to fill the superintendent role permanently.

But Ising said she hasn't gotten the sense that her colleagues are interested in conducting a search outside the district to hire for the job. She said she hopes the board will chose a direction for the post during one of its February meetings — the first of which is Feb. 3 — when Harris's interim appointment expires.

“I am hoping to have a decision and something in place,” Ising said. “We told the public we would, so that's my goal.”

Harris, a district administrator since 2007, said he doesn't know of any plans that the school board has for the superintendent position.

“I haven't heard, ‘No,'” said Harris, declining any further comments.

Among the items board members are reviewing are recent changes to state law concerning superintendent contracts, Ising said. Legislators in 2012 decided to require districts to have a written contract with their superintendents that must be between three and five years.

Contracts also must cite a variety of performance goals, which can range from student-achievement benchmarks to financial management.

Since Harris stepped up from his role as assistant superintendent, the school board approved a new three-year contract with its paraprofessionals, custodians and secretaries. He also has been involved in the planning for the high school remodeling project.

At the start of his tenure, Harris was a little apprehensive about giving his opinions to board members, Ising said. But that has changed as Harris has become more comfortable in the job, she said.

In particular, she noted that he favors the building of a high school annex to house a new maintenance facility, fitness center and auxiliary gym if project bids are low enough to enable its inclusion in the project.

“All in all, I would say he's done pretty well,” Ising said. “He's done fine. No one has really said anything negative.”

Other community stakeholders want to see Harris remain as superintendent.

Susan Jennings, the president of the Penn-Trafford Community Education Foundation, praised Harris' work as chairman of the foundation committee that brainstorms ways to raise money to support educational initiatives in the district, including a talent show last weekend.

Jennings, who is the mother of a senior, and Harris have been board members since the foundation launched in 2008.

“I really feel he's a great fit,” Jennings said. “He knows the staff well and the needs of the district, and he always has the students in mind.”

The teachers also expect that Harris gets the full-time job, said Shaun Rinier, president of the Penn-Trafford Education Association.

Harris is fair, honest and open-minded to new ideas, Rinier said.

“None of us has any problem with anything Dr. Harris is doing,” he said. “I can't see why the board wouldn't make him full time.”

Butler's two immediate predecessors — Joseph A. Marasti and Deborah Kolonay — came up through the district's administrative staff before taking on the top job. Marasti served from 1988 to 2003, followed by Kolonay until 2011.

“This is a guy that, I think, if he can stay here for 10 to 15 years, he will, and that's good for the district,” Rinier said. “I don't think you want to make this a revolving-door district.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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