Well-traveled administrator lands top West Jefferson Hills job
Michael Panza plans to walk the hallways of the five West Jefferson Hills schools; visit the classrooms; interact with students, teachers and parents; and even, if he's invited, play in the orchestra pit for Thomas Jefferson High School's spring musicals.
The tuba player and longtime band director — who was hired on Monday as the district's first permanent superintendent in more than three years — has made it his mission to learn the names and faces in the West Jefferson Hills School District in the next several months.
His leadership motto is simple: MBWA, or “Management by Wandering Around.”
“You don't manage your district, you don't manage your building from behind your desk. You've got to be out in the halls,” said Panza, 55, who lives in Cherry Township in northern Butler County with his wife, Deanna. “You've got to get to know your people.”
Board members voted unanimously to hire Panza as superintendent for a term of five years starting July 1 through June 30, 2018. Panza will earn an annual salary of $150,000.
Twenty people applied for the position. Seven candidates were interviewed.
Panza has been Sto-Rox School District superintendent for the past two years and before that was the Carlynton School District superintendent for six years. He also has served on the Moniteau School Board for the last six years.
“It was just his overall experience, his background, his commitment and his passion for kids and educating all children,” West Jefferson Hills board President Anthony Angotti said. “He's just a great man. He's going to do great things.”
West Jefferson Hills has had several interim and acting superintendents since suspending Terry Kinavey in September 2009.
Kinavey's suspension came after more than 100 residents attended board meetings questioning her actions to remove long-term substitute Denise Breisinger's name from a hiring list.
The board voted to fire Kinavey in September 2010 after testimony and an initial termination hearing that lasted 15 sessions in which district officials presented evidence that she violated district procedures as well as plagiarized materials and speeches. Breisinger later was hired for a district teaching position.
Kinavey appealed her termination and has been in several legal battles with the district and board members. Her appeal is ongoing in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, district Solicitor Ira Weiss said Monday.
Had Kinavey remained employed in the district, her five-year contract would have expired on June 30 of this year.
Hiring a superintendent before the contract ended contained “some slight element of risk,” if Kinavey's termination was overturned in court, Weiss said. “You didn't want to wind up with two people here,” he said.
Having a contract with Panza is a positive for the district, Angotti said.
“It really is a great feeling for our district and our kids. It's important to have that stability,” Angotti said.
Board members began to look for a permanent superintendent about nine months ago and hired the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to conduct the search. They incorporated surveys and input from residents, administrators, faculty and staff, Angotti said.
“We learned that our district was looking for a strong educational leader of high morals and ethics, prior superintendent experience, a visionary who will move our district forward and a leader with a passion for education,” he said.
Panza has all of that, Angotti said.
The Fox Chapel Area High School graduate received his bachelor's in music education from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1979, master's degree in music education in 1982 and a second master's degree in education administration in 1987. He then went on to receive his doctorate in educational leadership in 1992 from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He also received 18 credits from Westminster College in New Wilmington, where he received his letter of eligibility to become a superintendent.
Panza began his educational career as a high school band director in the Highlands School District.
Later, he became the band director in the Western Beaver and Quaker Valley school districts.
At Western Beaver, the band had 63 students in the fifth to 12th grades when he started. That number increased to 185 in three years, he said.
“I said, ‘Wow, if we can make a change like that in the music program, I wonder if you can make a change like that in a building?'” Panza said.
That led Panza to seek a job as an administrator, he said.
He became an assistant principal at Quaker Valley before becoming the principal at Springdale High School in the Allegheny Valley School District.
Panza next was the superintendent in the Moniteau School District from 1999 to 2005 before going to Carlynton.
“It's a love of education. I am so blessed. I get to wake up every morning and do something that I love to do,” Panza said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.