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New superintendent in West Jefferson Hills School District highly visible in community

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Thomas Jefferson High School Marching Band members make their way around the high school in preparation for their appearance in Kennywood's Fall Fantasy parade last week.
Mary Lou Walsh plays the shakers alongside her son, junior Patrick Walsh, during Thomas Jefferson band practice. Mrs. Walsh and other parents surprised the students by joining them halfway through their march.
Mary Grassi joins her son, junior Timmy Grassi, during band practice.
David Delmonico looks for his daughter Jennah Delmonico (not pictured) during parents' day at Thomas Jefferson band practice.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Senior Tori Cotter (left) and senior Lauren Herazo (right) are surprised when Kris Herazo joins in during parents' day at Thomas Jefferson High School band practice prior to its appearance in Kennywood's Fall Fantasy parade. More photos and back to school information on Page 17.

The new West Jefferson Hills School District superintendent plans to be in the stands for the first home football game, likely wearing his black and gold gear and cheering on the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars.

All summer, Michael Panza, who started in the district's top role the final week in June, has been dropping by school and community events to get to know the community better.

“I want to take the time so everybody knows there's somebody they can come find, that they can get an answer from,” said Panza, 55, who lives in Cherry Township in northern Butler County with his wife, Deanna.

“On my way home, don't be surprised if you see me stopping somewhere.”

Panza has visited band parent meetings and cheerleading events this summer. He also participated in numerous community events and parades, and even visited borough council meetings to introduce himself.

Panza, the first permanent superintendent in West Jefferson Hills in more than three years, said he hopes to bring stability to the district.

“That's what I want to do, let them know that I will be available,” he said. “I challenge everyone here not to make a difference, but to be the difference in the lives of kids.”

Panza is one of several new faces in the district at the start of the 2013-14 school year. Four new teachers also are to start this year.

Students will head back to classrooms on Aug. 26, with additional technology at their fingertips, a new roof over their heads and additional classmates at their sides.

Technology and facilities

Technology infrastructure was upgraded at Jefferson Elementary and Pleasant Hills Middle School this summer, Panza said. The project is to be complete by Sept. 1.

Upgrades already were completed at Thomas Jefferson High School and the administration building.

Additional laptop computers and smartboards were placed in elementary school classrooms, Panza said.

“Almost every class should have them now,” he said.

A new TV studio is being installed at Pleasant Hills Middle School, thanks to a $20,000 STEAM grant.

A roof replacement project at Gill Hall Elementary, which started in June, also was completed this summer, Panza said.

At Jefferson Elementary, upgrades were made to the butterfly garden with help from the parent-teacher association, Principal Chris Very said. Two students were selected through a competition to redesign the bird house for the garden, he said.

Curriculum and programs

A bullying prevention program implemented last school year will return this fall, with a new addition.

District leaders will teach cyber bullying prevention through schoolwide assemblies presented at all five schools in October, Very said.

At McClellan Elementary, the superhero theme “Be a hero, not a bully” once again will be used to prevent childhood bullying, Principal Justin Liberatore said.

All three elementary schools will implement a new math series, “My Math,” by McGraw-Hill for kindergarten through fifth grade, Liberatore said. The new program will help align curriculum and teaching to the Common Core State Standards, he said.

This follows the implementation last year of the new elementary reading series “Treasures,” by McGraw-Hill, Very said.

Expected growth

Housing development in the Hunters Field complex in Jefferson Hills has brought an influx of students to McClellan Elementary School, Liberatore said.

Enrollment at McClellan Elementary will grow from 60 to 80 kindergarten students this year for its half-day program, he said. The increase will require the addition of a fourth kindergarten section and turning a part-time teaching position into full-time.

Most of the new students enrolling at McClellan Elementary are coming from Hunters Field and are kindergarten age, Liberatore said. How the housing complex will affect other grades in the future remains to be seen.

This year, there will be 415 students in all at McClellan Elementary, up from 386 last year.

Average class sizes at McClellan will be between 20 and 24, Liberatore said.

“We're excited. It fills our building,” Liberatore said. “We knew it was going to be a big year.”

On-field conduct

West Jefferson Hills coaches now will be expected to meet with the building principal and athletic director at the start of every season to sign a code of conduct, Panza said.

The conduct expresses the district's expectations of the coaches, he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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